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Nothing That Is So, Is So

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"What do you mean you won't compete, Galladon?" Jaime snarled, feral and hungry for an argument. "With all the time you spend with her, I'd think you’d be the first to put your name in." 

Except Galladon is not my name and I care not for the prize.  The reply was still quicker than her lies, even after all this time.  Perhaps because of the years Brienne had spent in King's Landing, she was even more at risk of letting her disguise slip like silk through her thick, fumbling fingers. But what she actually said, with her voice pointedly deepened to sound like a man’s, was something entirely different. "You know there's someone else, Jaime.  I’ll take any chance to fight but I'd win and then what would I do? Make us both unhappy?" 

That seemed to satisfy him.  Him. The Kingslayer. The Lord Commander. Jaime Lannister. Her friend.  Galladon's friend, she chided herself.  Him, who believed there was some fair, young maiden who had captured Galladon's affections, before he had been called to squire for the Lannisters.  It had been an easy enough lie, one necessary to explain her constant gentle rebukes and disinterest in any of the ladies in the city, but one based in truth.  It was Renly Baratheon who had stolen her heart, after all, though that was long ago. Now that young love was something she kicked when she walked, an errant, tumbling pebble at her feet. 

Perhaps Galladon would like the hand of Cersei Lannister.  She was beautiful and powerful, a pretty thing on Brienne's brother's handsome arm. The minstrels would write songs of their love and attractiveness.  But Brienne could not bring herself to win Cersei's hand for him, as him, not when she knew what hateful creature was lurking beneath spun gold stresses, burnished smooth skin, and emerald coated eyes. Not when she knew what her long, fine fingers did to those who gave her their heart. 

And it was Galldon who was cocky and sure of his skills, not Brienne.  She was good, or so Jaime and others had told her.  And it was with a swelling pride, which tasted of tin and roses, that no longer was the compliment followed by any insult to her gender or her looks. Because they do not know.  They think me a man. They think me Galladon.  And though she was ugly even as such, there was little ridicule for being so, especially when few were looking at her face when she yielded a blade. 

"You may win," Jaime said.  "But only because I cannot enter." 

All knew that he could not, because he was Kingsguard, because he was her brother.  But only Brienne knew that there was still a part of him, small and dwindling but ever present, that wanted desperately to enter the tourney to champion to wed Cersei.

 

  

When Galladon had received the summons of King Rhaegar to represent Tarth and become a squire for the city, he had been ecstatic, a lithe and bouncing ball of porcelain skin and summer wheat hair as he hollered around Evenfall Hall. But Brienne could not muster even a small smile for her brother, already light and charming and the joy of their father. He was kind to her, even allowing her to practice beside him when he trained with Master Goodwin, but he was destined for a life of adventure.  She would never have that freedom, despite being already refused by three suitors. Not that she wanted to marry and manage a household and bear children, but it still pained her to see the pride in Lord Selwyn's eyes when he looked upon his son.  

When Galladon had tumbled on the rocks and could no longer feel his legs, she had been the first to find the maester, the first to stay at his side, and the last to know of their father's plans.  

"All the houses are sending their sons to the city," Lord Selwyn told Brienne that day. "If we do not, then what will the king think of our loyalty? We are the first defense between our land and Essos."  

"Does that not make us the most loyal?" Brienne innocently asked.  

"It makes us the most threatening.  We must display our allegiance.  Tarth must give up Galladon to our king."

 

  

But it was not Galladon that went to King's Landing, but Brienne, locks cut to expose her wide ears and dressed in her brother's clothes, though they were a bit tight and short on her. Though none had questioned that this tall, strapping lad with the dry, wild hair hiding bright blue eyes, a face smeared with freckles, and teeth as large as a horse's, could be anyone other than Galladon of Tarth. 

At first, it was lonely.  All that suffused her was the flashes of Renly Baratheon flitting through the Red Keep with his retinue.  And the song of her practice sword, a hum like a taut drum, dulled blade always meeting that of her opponent’s.  Her skills made her even more friendless, though, as the greater houses, like the Martells and Tyrells and Starks, did not care to be beaten by a boy from some small Island. 

Their snickers and sneers haunted her nights and, even if they had let her sleep, the many bodies of the other boys so near her own would have kept her awake well enough.  So, Brienne had begun to take her sword and sneak into the yard to bash at the air or the padded poles, careful not to create too much noise.

 

  

But one evening, in the hush of quiet, a bright blue moon winking out between clouds skittering by, blown by a breeze that tasted of salt and storm, Brienne was found. She was busy hacking at some leather strapped to the arm of a log, sweat burning her eyes like an onion and painting her hair and tunic to her body.  The sound of her soft grunts and panting filled her ears and she did not hear anyone approach, not until they spoke, words like rolled up thunder and a strained coil in her belly.  

“Your form is exceptional, for your age.”  

Brienne spun around, nearly dropping the hilt in shock.  She knew that voice, had heard it laughing, curling along the halls, like waves lapping at the shore, or hot and angry, as sharp as dowsed steel. Always it drew her, but not close enough to be seen.  The Kingslayer was not a man whose notice she cared to trip over, though she was curious about him. His cloak was pure white and his Kingsguard armor polished as bright as an ocean stone.  There was blood on his hands, though, even if she could not see it, and yet, he was allowed to walk freely, to protect the king, to serve his family.  She had thought perhaps his name was what had placed him as Lord Commander.  Then, she had seen him spar.  

“Have you no tongue? Are you a Payne, then?” He smiled and his teeth caught the white glean of the moonlight, flashing brightly against his breastplate.  

In the shadows cast, it looked predatory and Brienne stepped back, gripping her useless practice sword. “No…ser.” She did not like having to call him such and it made her hate King’s Landing all the more for forcing her to have to do so.  “I’m from Tarth.” No need to lie, unless necessary. 

“I’ve seen you with the other collection of boys the king has gathered,” he said as he folded his arms and looked down at her in the small space between their heights. “You’re good, but not popular.”  

Perhaps she should bathe in lies, for the truth was a sharp sting that had her sucking her bottom lip to keep her hiss of pain quiet.  But the hurt burned up easily enough in a flare of white anger. She had endured the solitude and had come out here to find her peace with it.  Yet, still they hounded her like wolves to a doe.  “I would have thought the Lord Commander too busy to concern himself with things that are good or popular.” The words roared from her mouth before her tongue could quell them. 

Brienne gasped, pausing enough to just catch his shock and blink, before fleeing, fearing to hear him command her to stop or find his steps chasing her so he could run her through with his own sword, one that was very carefully sharpened, she imagined.  She had no notion how she had made it back to the chambers she shared, nor how she had not awakened the others with her loud, rattled breaths clutching at air too thick for her. Yet, she managed to her cot, pulling her knees up under her chin and waiting for the men to come and take her for her treachery.

 

  

But none had arrived.  Her unruly mouth and obvious disdain, rather than fear, for the Kingslayer had made her an interesting, shiny bauble for the man to inspect.  She had not been a threat, anyway.  Not then, at least. Though she had been as wiry as a hare the next day, jumping at the slightest sound, feeling faint at the any glint of gold.  Despite being unable to sleep the following night, either, she had dared not head to the yard to practice. Prey she may be, but she would not be so easily caught. 

But the Kingslayer was nowhere in sight. Days later, she had heard he had accompanied the king outside of the city and Brienne slept soundly for the first night since she had come to King's Landing. 

Now, many years forward, Brienne did not fear any retaliation from Jaime Lannister.  "You think too highly of yourself," she snorted at him. "An old man like you, weighted down with armor, is no match for Oberyn Martell." 

"That lascivious creature who has been eyeing even you?" Jaime rolled his darkening green eyes, throat bobbing in his growing humor.  "How can you think the Hound wouldn't beat him?" 

"We will see," she shrugged. 

"Aye."  The word petered off like the last drops of rain slumping heavy to the ground. He was not even looking at her now, was probably not even aware she was still there.  She cleared her throat, giving a grunt like her father used to do, and Jaime blinked, clearing up the remnants of his smoky memories, and turned to her.  "Well," he smiled and it felt warm against her skin.  "You can sit with me in the stands and bet on who wins." 

She wanted to ask him if he would try somehow to compete, using a disguise, perhaps.  She wanted to know if he would always chose Cersei, even now, after all she had done. She wanted to discover what would change if she were to reveal herself.  But that did not matter.  None of it did. "That would be agreeable, Ser." 

"Don't be so cold, Galladon," Jaime laughed and slapped her back, the echo of his palm lightning under her tunic. "If anyone can cheer me up through this mummer's farce, it's you." 

It had not always been like that, Brienne recalled, this aggravating and frightening camaraderie.  Her thoughts drifted back to when Jaime had been a poison tipped bur imbedded in her flesh…

Chapter Text

Brienne planned to wait for Galladon's arrival, taking in as much tutelage as she could and earning him a reputation as a humble and skilled squire. He may not appreciate that his sister had also made him an outcast and a loner, but he would right that as soon as they switched places.  Except that every letter from their father spoke of no improvements to her 'childhood friend'.  

Her plans were for naught anyway, for some days after King Rhaegar and his attendants returned to the city, Jaime Lannister was stalking her again.  At first, it was whenever he was on duty and happened to pass the yard, remarking loudly about the large boy that spun through his stances like a dancer with one foot. Then, he was coming on his own, sometimes dressed for sparring as well, or, rarely, in just a crimson tunic and dark breeches.  Always with a sword at his hip and his sharp tongue unsheathed.  He called out about the unfairness of a grown man, big enough to cause great harm, practicing with children, of how her grunts, their reverberations clanging through the halls of the keep, were disturbing his afternoon naps, of the odds that she was actually a bastard Clegane with her size and intensity of fight.  The other boys and men laughed at his remarks and the Master at Arms grinned.  Ladies hid their snickers behind dainty hands. Even the king had chuckled. They were laughing at her. The Kingslayer, a detestable traitor, had made her look like a fool.  Worse still, he had made Galladon look like a fool.  

When he finally approached her alone, Brienne was brimming with rage and shame, feeling her skin sear with a heat more powerful than wildfire and thinking that if she should open her mouth, it would catch and ignite the city before the foul man could blink, his jade gaze a tarnished gem against the green of her fury and embarrassment.  She was just leaving the practice yard, storming to her lessons next, and he appeared, dressed in his armor today, from a flight of stairs as she realized she was still gripping her blunted sword and considering using it on him, letting him cut her in two with the one at his side.  

"Where are you going?" he called to her.  

Without thought, though she did hear it screaming at her to keep walking, she spun around.  "What does it matter to you?" she hissed, wondering if that was truly how her voice sounded, low and threatening.  "Do you intend on following me all the time? You put a sword through the last king’s back so perhaps you are planning on killing this one from neglect by keeping it far from his person.”  

There was a single blink, a wink of green blocked by the shade of his eyelids, mouth starting to part before it was slammed shut by the gate of white teeth and a tremor through his jaw, gaze narrowing. “You should be careful, boy. You sound madder than the last king I killed.” He stepped forward, white cloak swirling against the dust on the ground, kicking up like smoke.  

Brienne did not retreat.  “What does it matter? You’ve made it impossible for me to be here.”  

“Me?” he laughed and suddenly the dark lion lurking in the shadows had disappeared.  “I’ve done nothing. You are the one making it difficult on yourself.”  

“Why do you mock me? What could I have done to you?”  

The Kingslayer shook his head.  “I can train you, teach you what that Master at Arms, a man who has never been in battle, cannot.”  

“The only thing you can teach me is how to stab a man in his back,” she snapped.   

“That kind of thinking is what will make you fail, even if you do manage to become knighted.” He took another step.  

Holding her ground, Brienne felt her mouth tremor as she tried to stick her chin out.  “I’ll never be seen with the Kingslayer.”  

“That won’t be a problem,” he snarled.  “You practice at night.  And I find myself unable to sleep unless I have some physical exertion. Beating you will give me quite the peaceful rest.”

It was lingering on her tongue, venom on a fang.  But it was Brienne’s answer, not Galladon’s.  She could see the appeal of Jaime Lannister, to her brother, at least. The other squires did not seem bothered by his past, blinded by the gold and white, by the uneasy peace that had still settled over the realm despite his betrayal.  Perhaps they could not see the red beneath. But he was still a skilled fighter and Galladon would jump at the chance to learn from him. So, she swallowed down the venom.  

“Then you will certainly have nights spent awake,” she sighed.  

He laughed and she scowled at the open, merry sound as it filled the hall they were standing in.  “We will see.  This evening.”  

“This evening.”  

She made to slip past him, shoulders hunched and eyes to the stone, catching the scent of metal and musk as his cape swirled when he turned to watch her leave.  His gaze on her back sent prickles down her neck, burying under her sweat soaked tunic to run icy fingers down her spine.  “You should practice guarding your left side in the meantime,” he called out. “It’s always a point of attack on you.”

 

  

It had been a weakness, it would seem, as that night, and more after it, Jaime had managed an easy killing blow by striking at her left.  He would test her on the right, the quirk in his thick brows and the twitch in the corners of his mouth indicating pleasant surprise in finding her strong and quick.  With her large frame, beginning to reach even his height, Brienne was expected to be lumbering, reliant on power than fluidity, and she had bested Jaime usually only when she could flash out and startle him.  But he had been quick to adapt and soon their sparring was long and arduous, cool nights eaten away in the steam from their bodies, the silence buffeted with grunts and gasps and the hard crack of blades. 

Her days used to be spent in lessons, squiring, and practices.  Without Jaime coming to mock her in the yards, she hardly saw him. But when they had happened to pass in the halls, the other boys would look up at her in suspicious wonder when he would nod to her.  It made her hated, by the Targaryen boy especially, as she expected, but she also found some of the others more willing to spar with her or sit with her for meals. Galladon would have been much better at turning these offerings into true friendships, but she simply tried to maintain them, like tending a garden without caring for the blooms. He was supposed to be there soon enough, she had told herself, and at least she had not ruined it all completely for him. 

But it was only just now, years later, that the newest maester called to Tarth seemed to have found any hopes of Galladon walking again.  And Brienne had to keep up the disguise, though it nearly meant having to marry Cersei Lannister. 

“Perhaps Lord Frey will send a champion in his place and win,” Brienne said. 

Jaime chortled, but shook his head.  “I would not wish that even on my dear sister,” he replied over his shoulder as he headed towards his duties, familiar white swallowing him up in the billow of sails against a golden sunset as he walked away from her. 

Would he let it happen to me? When Galladon took her place, Brienne would return home and begin again the barrage of suitors that were too poor or old to care of anything besides the splendor of an island or the youth of her womb.  Yet, what would Jaime Lannister care for Brienne of Tarth? She had never mentioned she had a sister herself and she doubted Galladon would bring her up either. 

With a sigh, Brienne traversed the keep to return to her chambers, Ser Galladon having been given rooms far too fine for his place as a lesser knight, though she had laughed heartily when Jaime had proudly told her they were in the Maidenvault. Along the way, she could already see the tents and banners being erected on the tourney field. Nearly every house had sent a representative.  She could even see the black bear with red claws against a forest of green, the white shooting star and sword blazoned on purple, and a scythe piercing sable. Their flags snapped and pulled in the sea breeze crawling over the walls, mocking Brienne. 

Part of her pitied Cersei for being nothing but a prize and part of her laughed at the idea that, ugly as she was, even as a man, she could empathize with the beautiful Cersei Lannister.  If her father had been Hand of the King and had called for a tourney to prove the strongest suitor for her hand, Brienne knew that few would come.  Yet, here was most of the realm, fighting either for the loveliest woman in Westeros or for one of the most coveted seats in it, for Tywin Lannister had named his daughter’s husband heir to Casterly Rock. 

It was a masterful plan on all accounts.  Lord Tywin would keep Lady Cersei quiet and cowed and removed from the city, while he reminded Jaime of what he had given up by taking a position in the Kingsguard. And he denied his other son, Tyrion Lannister, that which was rightfully due to him, all because he was the Imp. Still, Brienne wondered if he was aware of just how successful he was in interfering with his children. 

It was years ago that she had learned of the true relationship between the Lannister twins. And it had certainly not been a pleasant revelation…

Chapter Text

It was not all nights that Jaime and Brienne met to spar.  Her sleeping had improved and she thought that so had his. Except, one evening, bundled up in furs and ready to give up that he would be coming, she spotted a stumbling form sloshing through his steps, sword loose and swaying in his hand. She stood unsurely, as Jaime approached, ambling into the pool of warm light cast in the yard from the torches in the hallways.  Then, she noticed that he wore only the lightest of clothing, tunic unlaced and swimming along his shoulders as he jerked about, and despite that, he was sweating, his golden curls turned to bronze and clinging to his wet skin.  The sharp, quick green eyes that pierced and followed her were now putrid, unseeing mires, glazed and hazy.  

“Boy,” he grumbled, squinting over her shoulder. “Where’s my blade?”  

Brienne frowned at his slurred words.  “In your hand, Kingslayer.  What is the matter with you?”  

“Nothing!” he hollered.  “Why is everyone asking that tonight? Come.  Prepare to fight the Lord Commander.”  

“I don’t think-“ She was cut off by his lunge, sword barely raised as he tried to barrel into her.  Easily, she danced away and watched him stumble to a halt behind her.  “Are you drunk?” 

“Hardly,” he said to the night.  “A Lannister does not get drunk.”  

She did not mention the times she had seen Tyrion Lannister stagger through the keep. And their sister had a goblet of wine in her hands all the times that Brienne saw her.  But she had learned that inciting inebriated fools was not a pleasant experience.  “Then, this will be the first for it.  Go back to your chambers and we will spar another night.”  

“You cannot command me, squire,” he retorted, finally turning to face her, but only managing to sway in his spot.  “You call me nothing but Kingslayer, but I promise that when I cut you through, it will be from the front.”  

“I had not thought you one to take so heavily to drink as an escape, Ser,” she huffed. 

He laughed, long and mirthless, ending in a breathy sigh like the last gasp of a dying pig. “And I had not thought you considered me above anything.” Dropping his sword, he sat in the cold, wet grass, though he made no motion that he felt it seeping through his thin clothes. “You are just a boy, even after all this time here and you still have your righteous notions of honor and duty. Haven’t I shown you how useless they are?”  

“To you,” she snapped, though that was starting to become less convincing. 

Wincing as if she had slapped him, he jerked his head away from her.  “Aye.  And no matter how much I dirty my hands, it’s still never enough for her.” There was silence as Brienne felt bile rise in her throat and she panicked at having to speak of women with the Kingslayer.  Before she could manage out any words, though, he looked at her.  “Have you ever been in love?”  

“Y-yes.” Handsome, valiant, true, with eyes like a summer sky and hair as dark as a raven. 

“And you would do anything for her, yes?” he continued.  “Anything that she asked, you would give.” There was a trap, a catch, somewhere in what he was saying and Brienne slowly shook her head, unwilling to answer.  Still, he went on. “You would kill for her, of course. Father wanted her to marry that drunk, womanizing, fat Baratheon. He may have ignored her tears and agony at it, but I could not.  It was an easy thing to challenge him to duel and cut him down.” 

“You never-“  

You never heard of such a thing, you mean. She had it covered easily enough. Apparently I was supposed to poison him or pay a woman to slit his throat in bed.  She must think like all the rest that I’m nothing but a miserable coward.” 

He killed a Baratheon.  Brienne knew that Renly’s brother, Robert, had gone missing long ago.  Right after he had been betrothed to Cersei Lannister.  

Now Brienne found she also needed to sit and welcomed the cold shock to her backside as she sat in the grass, far enough away from the Kingslayer that she could scramble to her feet and run, should he decide she knew too much. He hardly seemed to notice her though, and she feared any movement or sound to remind him of her presence. While the silence engulfed and, she prayed, protected her, she chastised herself for agreeing to practice with the Kingslayer.  Killing his king was now the greatest atrocity he was capable of, it was just the vilest one that others knew about.  

"What am I saying?" he grumbled, his square chin dropping to his chest, damp locks sagging to cover his face.  His muffled voice sounded like he was trying to call to her from below water. "You would never do what I have for love.  You hold your morals above the heart of a woman."  

The heart I would want would never require a life, she thought to say.  But did not. 

"And all for naught," he went on.  "Always at her whim.  Always in the dark. Gods, am I tired of being tossed from her chambers all these nights."  

"What?" The snap of the word was like a sail in the wind, billowing out before she could drop the rigging and let the hot breeze pass.  

It certainly caught his attention, as the Kingslayer shot his head up and looked at her across the yard.  His glossy eyes were wide, mouth opened.  "What?"  

"You-you have been coming here to practice with me to cover your-your-"  

"My...infidelities?" he chuckled, as if this were somehow humorous.  

But Brienne was not smiling.  She gathered her feet under her and sprung up from the ground, pointing the trembling tip of her blunted sword towards him.  Tilting back, as if she was close enough to lunge at him, he nearly toppled in the grass as he lost his balance.  "You used me."  

"Why should you be so shocked, boy?" he shrugged. "No one trusts me."  

"Because you've done nothing trustworthy! After all you've said and done, how can you blame anyone but yourself?"  

The surprised expression on his features darkened and when he lowered his head again, the shadows in the night shaded his eyes, turning him into nothing but white fangs and a sharp nose amidst a wild mane.  Leaning forward, he rose to his knees and put his hands out.   "Careful, boy."  

Brienne took a step behind her.  But she squared her shoulders.  Galladon would not back down.  “We will cease our practices.  I’ll not be part of your evening…your evening-“ 

“Beddings?” He did not sound so amused this time.  Slowly, he rose, stalking towards her, still swaying slightly in the cold wind. His grip on his sword, though, was tight and sure and even with the dull point soaking up the surrounding light, she knew he could hurt her.  “If you breathe a word of this, it will be your last.”  

She tried to scoff, but it may have come out as a groan.  “Who would want to know of such things?”  

The Kingslayer blinked again.  And then laughed, vanishing the cold fingers of night that had wrapped around Brienne’s heart and caused it to stutter and then race.  He was the sharp sheen of a blade once more, bright and gleaming, blinding the dangerous edge.  “You naïve, giant child.” Shaking his head, he lumbered away, crossing over his own feet and stepping on his sword tip, leaving Brienne in a chill that clung to her belly.

 

  

She had never felt more like a child until that moment, when she was simply a piece for the beautiful Lannister siblings to play with, a veil behind which they could betray the realm with their dark lusts.  It was easy to halt any of her thoughts from straying to what, precisely, they were doing together, but it had not been as effortless to avoid either of them.  Cersei had never acknowledged Brienne’s presence and that did not change after the night the Kingslayer had spilled their secret like sour wine. But she had never braved to go back to the practice yard at night and Jaime Lannister did not resume his mocking of her from the sides.  When they did pass in the halls, she had known that he openly followed her with his eyes, though she kept her gaze firmly at the stones just before her booted feet, burning up in his stare. 

During that time, it had felt like she had failed Galladon.  He would not have been so foolish as to trust the Kingslayer.  So, she tried to at least provide him with other companions, attempting smiles when the beautiful and skilled Loras Tyrell sat with her for supper, helping a poorly feeble Samwell Tarly with his sword grip, and teaching Himmel Umber how to read maps.  Still, something had been missing and Brienne had begun hoping that Lord Selwyn’s letters would be provide more promise for her brother’s recovery. 

“Galladon,” hailed a familiar voice, shaking her from her memories just as she was crossing the same yard she had first met Jaime on. 

Turning, she saw Ser Addam Marbrand jogging through the field with his hand on the hilt of his blade to keep it from bobbing behind him.  He was grinning, though his attention had drifted to the myriad of colors and fabrics swaying and flapping in the wind. 

“I owe Arys Oakhart a dirk,” he chuckled, brightening up a face that many of the ladies had called handsome, though Brienne could not really see it as such.  “I didn’t think whatever is under Cersei’s skirts was worth all of this. There’s a good chance she has the lower body of a kraken, for all this fuss.” 

Brienne had to bite her lip to hide her smile. “But,” she countered. “Have you not entered yourself?” 

“Who wouldn’t want to see a half woman, half kraken?” 

Perhaps when she titled her head, she could see his finer jaw structure and the pleasant copper glean of his long curls. “I am sorry I cannot support your cause, Ser.” 

“That’s a shame,” he shrugged. “You can’t be hoping that Lord Longthorpe prevails.  He has quite the hardy champion, but the man himself is older than dust.” 

“I would not wish such a husband on anyone,” Brienne sniffed. 

“Aye, but I don’t think it’s Cersei that he wants. I hear he can’t take the cold of the Vale anymore and wants somewhere warmer.” 

She frowned. “Even more reason for him not to win.” 

“Then you will hope for my victory?” he brightened. 

"I'll most certainly cheer for you when you go against Lord Longthorpe's champion, just as I will any of his other foes, at that," Brienne replied. 

"Why sit on the stands when you can fight? You've been around Cersei enough that many assumed you would be eager for her hand." 

I've been eager to get rid of her, Brienne sighed.  She had not understood what had caused the lovely lioness to place her attentions, and her delicate hands, on Galladon of Tarth, but the woman had taken every opportunity to claim Brienne's company.  She would pull her from the practice yard when she was with Jaime, send her maids to fetch her during meals, and had even demanded her escort when touring the city.  It was exhausting and unpleasant, as Brienne felt that Cersei had little true interest in a young knight from the Sapphire Isle.  And the dark looks Jaime gave both of them were a bitter agony. Even though Ser Addam was a friend of Jaime's, Brienne could not admit how she despised Cersei's company. 

"I would only enter for love and my heart belongs to another," she said. 

Ser Addam nodded without a hesitation of uncertainty at her words.  They were not a lie, after all.  "She must have been disappointed to hear that." 

Actually, since Lord Twyin had announced the tourney, Brienne had seen little of Cersei, a most welcome respite from the afternoons spent following her bouncing golden curls and swirling crimson skirts. "There are better men than me for her." 

"Always the modest and gallant Galladon," he chuckled.  "I don't know how you and Jaime ever became friends." 

Brienne smiled, knowing that it had not been an easy thing…

Chapter Text

Many moons after Brienne and Jaime had halted their nightly sparring, King's Landing had held a tourney for the king's nameday.  All of the King's Squires, as her group had come to be called, were assigned knights to assist.  And they were even allowed to joust against one another and hold their own squire's melee. While Brienne was eager to place Galladon's name on the lips of commonfolk and nobles alike, she was horrified to learn that she would be attending the Kingslayer.  

While the other boys happily boasted of their charges, Brienne trudged to the large tent, taller than all of the others, where a blazon lion clawed at the air from its banner, blood red fabric dripping from its tail to billow amongst the grass. Two knights stood before the entrance, stained bronzed armor greedily sucking up crisp morning light. They did not even glance at the tall, hulking squire that tried to sneak between the flaps.  

Inside, the brilliant rays of the sun pierced through the tent, turning the world to a red hue. And in the midst of it stood Jaime Lannister, tightening the laces of his crimson jerkin rather harshly. In the light, he looked like a knight from her favorite childhood books, hair falling into his tanned face and strong jaw twitching as he worked, calloused fingertips curling and pulling. Alone in a pool of scarlet, he was too handsome for Brienne to deny it, despite how much she wanted to. And here she was, so ugly she could pass as a hideous man.  

“S-ser Jaime?” It was still difficult to address him properly.  

Tossing his head up, one brow arched in surprise and amusement, he pinned her with his gaze. His fingers stopped their fiddling. “I didn’t think you’d come, boy.”  

“Of course I would,” she bristled.  “It’s my duty.”  

“Ah, yes,” he muttered, resuming his ties.  “Nothing is more important than what you think you have to do.” 

He was already trying to lead her into dangerous territory, lure her into the lion’s den to be eaten alive.  So, she attempted to steer towards the more familiar with this man.  “At least I know how to do some things.  You’re doing that all wrong.” 

“I know how to put on clothing,” he said as he dropped his hands and tilted his head at her.  

“You knotted the wrong ends.”   

Looking down, he huffed when he realized that she was right.  “Well, that’s what you’re here for, right? Show me what they have taught you.” 

Brienne had armored herself, some of the other boys, and even her mentors. Putting plating on the Kingslayer should have been just another practice.  But as she tentatively neared him, she could feel the heat from his body, his eyes watching her progress, dipping as she bent to pick up his sabatons and following as she kneeled to strap them to his legs, his fingers twitching near her ear.  

“I’ll be jousting most of the day,” he said from above.  “Richard Lonmouth and Black Lorren should be no trouble and they will be my firsts.”  

“Ser Richard tends to tilt his lance to the inside so, be careful of your left arm,” Brienne rattled off, effortlessly remembering her times watching the knights practice. “And Black Lorren will try to ram you with even a broken weapon.  He cares only for unhorsing you by whatever means.”  

“That is easy to tell,” Jaime snorted.  “What about Ned Stark?”  

“He raises his tip a moment before he strikes.”  

The silence above her told her she was right.  “I’ve been saying it for years, but no one sees it,” he finally sighed. “Stay close, then. You might learn something.”  

Brienne huffed, but said no more.  She finished armoring him quietly, trying not to watch him flex and toy with every piece she had fitted just as she was done with it.  Though he made no comment, neither did he stop her or undo her work. It should have been easy to focus on the arm or chest in front of her, the clasps her shaking and fumbling fingers were groping to fasten, but her attention kept drifting like lazy fog to the sound of his breathing and the shift of his weight in his impatience.  

In relief, she was finished before she had even realized what she was doing. Only the sudden appearance of his cold gaze awoke her before she placed his helm over his silken hair. Wordlessly, and without looking at Jaime, she picked up the cumbersome red and gold lance with the lion at the base and followed him from the tent.  So wrapped up in the red world within, she had forgotten that they were on a field filled with most of the knights in the realm, as well as the people of the city and lords and ladies excited to watch.  The hum of voices and the stink of horses assaulted her, causing her to blink and lose sight of Jaime.  But then she saw his crimson cloak floating towards the jousting field and his chestnut stallion, which was waiting with a stable boy.  

Speeding up to catch him, Brienne made it just in time to see him easily and fluidly mount, even in his heavy, dark armor, and turn towards her.  She wrestled to keep the lance tip from digging into the kicked up dirt, lifting the heavier, handled end for him to grasp and nestle into the space between his hip and leg.  After hefting it a few times to settle the weight, he gripped the reins.  

“Pay attention, boy.” His deep voice was tinted with metal, booming in her ears. “And avoid getting hit with anything.”  

With that, the Kingslayer gave one dig of his heel and his horse put his head down and charged forward to a growing growl of the crowd, loud as a dragon. Brienne hardly noticed the knight coming towards him as picked up his lance higher and slammed the end under his arm.  She tried not to blink, waiting for the impact to come, but it was as if time had slowed and there were innumerable heartbeats between every impact of hoof and mud. But as soon as wood connected with armor, it was chaos.  

She flinched as she realized why she had been warned about flying objects as pieces of wood and earth came flying at her.  Still, she kept her eyes on Jaime Lannister, annoyed that relief churned in her belly at finding him still seated and already turning his horse back around to her, shattered weapon nothing but a short mess in his hand. His opponent was still recovering amidst the shards of his lance and covered in mud, mount having made it back to his start before his rider.  

The crowd was cheering, though it was no surprise that he had won his first bout, and he merely raised his broken lance in recognition before tossing it on the ground by her feet and swinging his leg over to get down from the saddle. With the back of his hand, he casually knocked his visor up to reveal skin shining with sweat and a brilliant smile.  She had never seen that particular grin before.  

“Nothing like a good warm up,” he said, not even panting from the exertion. “Who’s next?”  

He won the next five of his turns, but the power of Balon Swann eventually took him down. The knight hit him hard enough that the Kingslayer rolled over the back of his horse and landed in a sitting position.  But after Brienne skidded and slid towards him, flinging off his helm while checking for broken bones, the man had the nerve to laugh.  

“That bird has some sharp beak!”  

“You are taking the loss rather well,” she said as she braced herself and helped him to his feet.  “And the laughter.”  

“Ser Balon is a decent knight, a bit uptight for my liking,” he replied as he winced and hobbled off the field with her.  “I’m his second match for the day while he’s my….”  

“Sixth.”  

“Yes. And this does not make me a loser just yet.  I can still win. We are playing with toys, boy. I’ll be more concerned in a real battle. There, I haven’t lost.”  

“Perhaps you would have won if you were facing Ser Balon’s back, then,” Brienne snapped, wrenching herself away from him.  It was all just a game to him.  

But this time, the Kingslayer did not let her run.  He snatched at her, yanking her towards his face, gauntleted grip a painful vice around her upper arm.  “Know your history, child.  I slit Aerys’s throat from the front.  And I’d do it again.”  Letting her go with such force, she stumbled back, he spun around and stalked to his tent, throwing open his flaps and disappearing in a blinding blaze of red as they fluttered together again.  

When he emerged for his next bout, he took his helm and lance from her, neither angrily nor gently, and returned from every win with a note about his opponent, sometimes questioning her to see if she had found the weakness as well. His previous anger had fizzled and died, leaving a cold hollow that Brienne did not know what to do with.  

What would Galladon make of a man that was Ser Jaime Lannister and also the Kingslayer? What do I make of him? He was revered and hated, respected and mocked. And the man did himself no favors with his open disdain and crass confidence.  She could learn much from the knight, but at what cost towards becoming her own? To Galladon becoming his own. 

Eventually, the first day of the tourney was done and the nobles and commoners eagerly flocked to the keep and the city, respectively, to live again the exciting events, spilling them out just as they drank in wine and ale, filling with feasts and revelry.  But the knights and their squires returned to their tents to tend their sores and pride. And to change.  

When Brienne entered, the Kingslayer was already ripping away at his armor, his back to her and a pile of discarded metal already collecting by his feet as he attempted to kick off his boots and shin guards.  

“What are you doing?” she gasped, rooted near the flaps.  

“I’ve been cooking in this from sun up to sun down,” he grunted as he tore at his couter. “It’s much easier to take off myself than put on so, go and find a boy to bring in a bath.”

Chapter Text

As he managed to open his breastplate, revealing beneath his mail a tunic that was now sheer and clinging to his back muscles with sweat, Brienne happily fled. Blinking back the echo of his body like flashes after a lightning strike, she hunted down servants making their way through the tents.  One she sent back to Jaime Lannister and the other two she followed back to fetch pails of water, spending as much time away as she could before she knew she had to return and make sure that her squirely duties were completed for the day.  

Carefully, she peeled back the ruby fabric keeping her from seeing within. And then warm water was sloshing onto her boots when she jerked back at what she found.  He was already submerged in the tub, thankfully, but his bare chest was revealed above the copper rim, allowing Brienne to see in the soft candlelight glistening off metal and water and haloing the silk walls, droplets buried in the golden curls between his dark nipples and caressing gilded trails down his muscled stomach.  With a gasp, she released the tent flap, but he had already lifted his head, wet hair falling back and brushing his shoulders.  

“Boy!” he called.  

Groaning at the drop of her stomach, cresting a wave and sinking in the valley, heavier and deeper than any feeling she had when spotting Lord Renly, Brienne stared at the red fabric.  “My name is Galladon.” Galladon.  Not Brienne.  Not some silly little girl staring at you. 

“What are you doing? Come back in.”  

“I-I forgot to fetch you water.”  

“If there’s nothing in that bucket, why are your breeches wet? Gods, you are an odd thing. Get in here and fill this tub and fetch my clothes.”  

Of course he would not understand.  She was Galladon of Tarth, a boy that slept in rooms with others his age, who had probably bathed at home with men and children as well.  And though Brienne had caught unwanted glimpses of some of the other squires changing, she had never washed or used the chamber pot in front of them. Besides, this was different. This was a man, a hardened knight. The Kingslayer. Ser Jaime Lannister.    

She stood straighter and then promptly dropped her head to stare at the pail in her hands, watching her feet shuffle forward and the dark night and earth blend into finely woven rugs flaming red in the pool of warm candlelight. She kept staring down until the edge of the tub came into her sight and she could pour in the contents of what she carried, hurriedly looking away when it cleared the suds and dirty water to reveal Jaime’s hairy legs beneath.  

“What in the hells is wrong with you?” Jaime grumbled.  

“I’m j-just giving you pr-privacy…Ser.” She hoped the “ser” would distract him.  

He simply huffed and said, “What I need is for you to hand me that towel and bring my clothes over.”  

She hastily complied, dragging a stool with fresh tunic, breeches, and jerkin over to the tub. Then, she took his boots and an empty stool to sit close at hand as well.  Finally, she took the towel, unsure of what to do.  Did he expect her to hold it out as he stepped from the tub, as her maids had done for her when she was younger? The thought of having to wrap it around him caused her to nearly drop it into the water.  

Suddenly, though, a large, wet hand reached out and snatched it from her tight grasp. “Go on, then.  I can manage from here, though you’re not much help, anyway.”  

Brienne nearly forgot to bow and gasp out her thanks as she slammed her eyes shut and swiveled to leave, hoping she was not actually running.  

“Don’t forget you are up first in the morning!” his voice trailed after her, chuckling like the hum of cicadas in the evening.  

How could she forget? The squires would be the entertainment before the final jousting event of the real knights.  And Brienne had been drawn to ride earliest.   This was the time to show the skills of Galladon.  But Brienne was nervous about being before the entire city and she feared that would cause her to slip.  Her brother would never forgive her if she made him a mockery.  

The worries followed her into the night.  Or perhaps it was that she was surrounded by the other boys that were concerned with disappointing their families as well.  Whatever the reason, it felt as if her body was pulled taut by strings on her head and her feet and they were being plucked, sending vibrations from top to bottom.  A dozen other strings were threaded to her chamber mates and it made the air hum like before a storm.  She knew she was not the only one that did not sleep.  

Still, she was the first to rise, as usual.  While the others were busy putting on their breeches, Brienne was already balancing her armor and trying to open the door.  As soon as she did, the sounds assaulted her quiet escape. The keep, it seemed, was a bulging ant pile, nearly bursting with servants preparing for the second day. By the time the nobles finally roused from their feather beds, everything would be in place.  

As she went onto the field, though, the chaos receded and she kicked through the wet morning mist that kissed the dewy green grass, soaking up the first rays of sunlight and lighting up the world from below.  The only sound was the dull thump of her feet sinking in the damp earth and the rattle of her armor as she fought to keep it in her arms. Occasionally, the pleasant chirp of birds rang out to welcome the day, reminding Brienne to breathe and take solace in this moment of peace.  

The squire’s tents were all the same.  The king did not want them to be so easily identified with their house sigils emblazoned on all that they owned or touched.  They were to be equals and they belonged to him and his city, not to their families. So, she walked into the camp farthest from the stands, where she could find some quiet, and dropped her armor onto the tan, rough carpets.  

Sighing, she had an instant to stare at it, trying to figure the easiest way to put on the plating herself when, suddenly, the flaps were thrown back and Jaime Lannister was haloed by the rising sun, already dressed for his afternoon bouts. “Boy!”  

“What are you doing here?” she gasped.  She did not need the flutter in her chest or the image of him naked in a tub at the back of her eyelids to distract her, not now.  

“I was right in knowing you would be the first,” he ignored her questioning, strutting into the tent and surveying the pile of armor.  

“Yes.  You were right. Now please leave me so I can get ready.”  

“But that’s why I’m here,” he protested.  “You did so well helping me yesterday, I thought I would come and assist you.”  

She narrowed her eyes, taking in the twitching mouth that was trying not to let the smile split into a grin and the glint of dark forest green burnishing his emerald gaze. “You want to see me fail.”  

“Oh, come,” he laughed.  “I’ll enjoy that later.  For now, you’d best accept my offer.”  

“I will look favored.”  

“If the other squires had done a better job aiding their knights, they might be out here with me, as well.”  

“The other knights are not so fascinated by us,” Brienne grumbled under her breath, staring at metal pieces, rather than Jaime Lannister’s amusement.  

“They are boring themselves.” A hand entered her vision, gripping her vambrace and making a crashing sound as it disrupted the pile, the other parts clattering together.  

It was enough to startle her with the thought of those same tanned, rough fingers pressing the plating to her arm, brushing against her as they caught the straps and tightened them.  “N-no,” she gasped. She was muscular and ungainly, a trunk of a body with thick limbs.  Nothing about her was feminine.  But perhaps there was something that she did not know that could reveal her gender in such close quarters, something that a man would notice. She could not risk being touched by anyone.  But she especially did not want to imagine the Kingslayer being close to her. 

He was looking at her strangely, armor dangling from his hand.  “I-I,” she searched.  “I’m nervous and dressing myself calms me.  B-But there’s so much more I need.  I don’t know where my horse is or where to get my lance or even who my first opponent will be.  And where do I start? How-“  

“Alright, alright, boy,” Jaime snorted.  He dropped the vambrace and placed his palms up in surrender, backing away with a dark grin on his face.  “You get armored and I’ll make sure you have everything else.” He gave her a mocking bow, though she was aware of how graceful the sweep of his arm was and how straight he kept his back, a quick dive and a fluid pull to stand again.  No one had ever done such a thing for her as Brienne of Tarth. “You’d best be done when I return.”  

Chapter Text

Despite her shaking fingers and the sweat causing the metal to slip from her grasp, she managed to quickly prepare, frantically pulling the buckles of her chest plate just as the Kingslayer swept back into her tent without pausing to see if she was dressed. He was scowling now, though there was not much effort in it, a look like some offending smell had assailed him, rather than anything terrible.  

“Your mount may be lame,” he scoffed.  “And the lance looks to have been rotting in the armory for longer than you’ve been alive.”  

“I’m sure the others will fair the same,” she shrugged, toying with her buckles to leak out her building nerves.  

“They would if they were all like you.” It was clearly an insult, but she did not know where the anger was sourced.  “But I can assure you that most of them have bribed handlers and servants for better horses and weapons.” 

Brienne blinked and stopped, looking up at him with enough surprise that he mirrored it in his own gaze before sighing and rolling his eyes.  “We are supposed to be equals.”  

“Except you’re not.  This is your chance to show your skills to the king and the entire city.  No house wants their son riding on a limping old beast with a lance that will break before impact.”  

But Galladon would.  Brienne had not thought to write to her father about the tourney.  Perhaps if she had, he would have known there was a game to play and sent her gold. But she only had the clothes she had brought and the books she had snuck into her pack.  And her senselessness had crippled Galladon even more than the shore of their home had.  

Jaime sighed, turning to leave.  “Give me a moment and I’ll see what I can-“  

“No.” That stopped him.  “I will fight as the king meant for us to fight.” It was not something her brother would do, she knew. He had never fully cheated in their sport, but if he could hide behind her back instead of finding a spot to stay in while she searched for him or begin to run after he had paused in his count, throwing her off, he would.  Brienne, however, always stayed where she had chosen and would begin the chase like a measured beat.  And it was she who chose to follow as the king had bid. 

“Don’t be a fool,” the Kingslayer snapped. “No one will know that I-“  

“It’s not about you,” she boldly interrupted again.  “It’s about me.  This is how we were meant to joust.  Then that is how I will.”  

There was a lightness in her decision.  She did not have to wonder and fret about what Galladon would want her to do, not this time. This was right and it was her own choice, something she should have been doing since she arrived. In a world that she did not belong, drowning in pride and prestige and power, her simple morals were an anchor. Until Galladon could save her, at least.  

Jaime’s lip twitched, though he kept his red mouth in a firm line as he stepped aside. “Well, I did come here to see you destroyed, boy.”  

My name is Brienne. She lifted her chin and walked out, trying not to look at his expression or stumble over the flaps of the tent as she attempted to forcefully flourish them apart.  I am a squire.  I am to be a knight of Tarth.  I will serve my king faithfully. That chant rang with the beats of her boots as she strode towards the grounds, throwing off the pull of wanting to turn back to see if she was being followed into her steps. 

Her horse, thin and dun colored, was being held by a young boy, too young to truly work for the stables, did look to be dragging behind one of her back hooves, not even shoed properly.  While down the long, straight fence, lined with rows of faces that blurred and swelled, the murmur of the crowd a hornet’s nest digging in Brienne’s ears and burrowing down her throat, was a steel gray stallion that stamped in anticipation.  

Swallowing back frustration and fear, she took the reins and attempted to gingerly mount the beast that shied from her size.  Her opponent, armored at least in the same fashion as she, giving little away as to who he was, did the same.  Brienne watched as a newly hewn lance, polished wood glistening in the morning sunlight, was nestled into the crook of the squire’s chest, a light and balanced weapon that his horse did not even seem to notice. But when her own was shoved against her thigh, the weight nearly toppled her from the precarious back of her bony mare.  

“Careful,” came Jaime’s voice from beside her knee.  He reached out quickly, one hand catching the lance and the other pushing her back into the saddle.  

“I’ve got it,” she breathed, taking the grip and righting herself so that he could release her.  The pressure of his touch remained as if he had crushed through her cuisse.  

“That, I doubt.” Taking a step back, he turned towards her challenger, pale lashes enclosing his bright gaze as he squinted.  The light was going to be in her eyes as well, she realized. And then, he was handing her the helm she had forgotten and saying, “Whatever you do, don’t let him unhorse you.”  

She wanted to tell him that was ridiculous advice.  Of course she was going to try to remain in the saddle.  That was the point.  Yet as the boy across the field positioned himself at his start, Brienne held on to that thought hard enough that her horse pranced at the tension. It was over if she fell. So, she would not fall.  

When she snapped down her visor with a definitive clang and the flags waved for them to charge, it was different than any of her practices.  Inside of her helm, the sounds of the crowd were a cacophony only subdued by her rasping gasps and the thundering hoof beats of her horse. It was not a fast animal and the limp forced her to lean to the side to remain mounted, but the sure sink of its shoes into the fresh earth was enough for her to tighten her hold of her lance and lower her head to gain what speed she could.  

The squire came into her view, weapon already tipped and straight, despite violent lurches of the stallion.  He was clearly one of the better riders, but Brienne had no more time to guess which of the boys she was up against, only that he was rushing too fast at her. She squeezed her thighs as tightly as she could while she jerked her reins, preparing for the sudden tension to cause her poor mount to swerve.  She wanted to scream, to at least move her lance, anything but the sudden impact that knocked the breath from her and rattled it around in her armor, leaving her absurdly frozen before the force whipped her back.  Her hold was good enough to keep her saddled, though her shoulders slapping against the mare’s flanks was painful and she could hear the laughter as her hands scrambled in the air to find the harnesses again.  

Thankfully, her mount finally stopped to the shushing, commanding voice of the Kingslayer, as hands untangled her boots from the stirrups and then grabbed her plating to pull her over one side.  She could not help but reach out to the strong shoulders waiting for her so that she could find her footing and give her shaking knees a moment to take her weight.  

“I have no idea how you managed to stay on,” he rumbled too close to her burning ear. All of her was burning, really, and she longed to rip off her armor.  

I do no know, either, she wanted to say.  But she let Jaime shake his head in bemusement as she righted her helm with shaking fingers and tried to calm her mount, and herself. 

“My lance,” she said to him, looking at the other end of the field to find her opponent prancing proudly, growing a cheer from the crowd.  

“Galladon-“  

Tired and sore as she was, Brienne lifted her leg and locked it into the stirrup, hauling herself back up, despite the dance and whinny of the horse. She managed to guide her with pressure from her thighs and a firm tug on the reins.  When she was facing the fence again, the Kingslayer was looking up at her with another brittle, worn weapon in his grasp, handsome face working between a scowl and a frown at her.  

“You are a stubborn brute,” he sneered.  

Turning away from the same expression she had known most of her life, she held her hand out for the lance, which he shoved at her.  He would never understand.  

“That squire over there,” she said, though she did not know why she was explaining herself to him, of all people.  “Is not as strong as me.  He is depending on his weapon to unhorse me.  And that’s not enough.”  

He had hoped to end his first match quickly and cleanly, she had felt that pride reverberate down his grip to crash against her chest.  He may have a faster mount and a tougher lance, but he was not the better fighter. The finest sword in the hands of a fool may as well be the dullest of blades. Ser Goodwin had told Galladon that, after he had stolen their father’s prized weapon and wanted to practice with it. 

So, when an arm snapped down to signal the next bout, Brienne did not hesitate to dig her heels into the bony body of her mare and squeeze her elbows, leaning over, a compact mass, roasting in armor and letting the breeze of her speed wash over her. Her opponent was eager to finish this, lowering his point too soon, cutting back the pace that he could gain on her.  It did not matter, though. She knew what was coming.  

His aim was true, but she had anticipated it, nearly burying her head in her horse’s neck as she leaned towards him.  The blow was just as painful as last time, even though she took it in her shoulder. It was worth the opening it gave her to dig her lance into his collarbone.  The weak, thin wood snapped instantly, spraying them both with shards that sang against their plating.  She was not depending on her weapon to unseat him, however, and even as it shattered, she put all of her power into ramming the handle above his heart, where he was unbalanced.  

Feeling, finally, the give of his chest, Brienne nearly tumbled from the saddle as she shoved forward, throwing her weight into their collision. While her muscles screamed and spasmed from the shock and strain, she gave a triumphant gasp when the solid body before her rocked back.  If she continued to push, they would both roll over the horses, so she used her reins to pull herself back into the saddle just as their mounts raced past each other.  

Their collision was as if they were fighting in the ocean, movements sluggish, struggling against the weight of a vast sea, time slowing.  As Brienne broke apart, though, she bobbed to the surface and the roar of the waves and the rush of life filled her lungs as she sucked in the air. The crowd was on their feet, stamping and clapping and yelling.  She turned, the sudden speed of her limping mare sending her to a waiting stable boy and Jaime, to find the other squire on his back in the middle of the field, kicking his heels into the mud and slamming his fists in anger.  

In the darkness of her helm, she smiled at the sight.  It was gone when she yanked it off and swung herself from the saddle, without help, trying to look as nonplussed and knightly as those she had raptly watched the day before.  For a moment, she had thought to be a true warrior, the world shrinking to her ragged breaths and the sudden, consuming need to claw, to fight, to kill in order to be free from a boy turned into a hungry animal, just as lost as she. And then they sped past each other and she was Brienne again, a girl, safe, playing at sport.  

Her foot caught in the stirrup, shattering the last cloying course of primal excitement, and she almost landed in the dirt, like her opponent.  

"Take it easy, there," Jaime chuckled, moving to grab her elbow. She twisted away from him, pretending to tighten the straps of her gauntlet rather than desperately search his expression, for what, she did not know.  "You may have won, but not without a beating."  

"I'll be fine," she snapped.  This was only her first bout and it had already exhausted her. But she would not let up. A humming had started beneath her skin, a gentle keen like a dragon's song.  It drowned out the dull beat of her heart and aching limbs, making her light, naked, honed.  This was what she was meant for and she would prove it.  "Who's next?"

Chapter Text

Brienne recalled her first tourney fondly, despite having lost both the jousting and the melee.  The taste of grass and mud, the cool slide of both as they fell into her plating, was as easy to recall as her name.  However, her strength could only last her so long, when some of the other boys could reserve theirs behind solid wood and sure footing. Eventually, her mare would no longer stand, though she shoved off the stable boy that tried to slit her throat. It may have been a mercy in the moment, but the horse recovered some days later.  If it was all just a game, a mummery, then no life should perish because of the boredom of nobles.  Meanwhile, her lances had continued to break, leaving her to unhorse her opponents with the handle. Khal Fon's son had been the final winner, mount and rider jingling with bells, not even hiding that the stallion was from the Dothraki Sea, not from the stables around the city. Despite the prestige, the boy, dark and tall and beautiful, a savage that made Brienne blush, had left soon afterwards, the world of court and games hardly worthy of the horse lord's skills. She had been impressed, nonetheless, and would have welcomed the chance to charge against him, if only a squire hailing from the Iron Islands had not used his strong tip to pluck her from the saddle. 

When it came to the melee, she had chosen a morning star that split from its grip, yet still she managed to knock out two squires with her fists and an aimed kick before Robb Stark, the eventual victor, had taken her down.  When she was able to pick herself up and crawl off the field, sun pounding on her shining back plate and pulling her down to the tufts of soft grass uprooted by boots and blades, she proudly noticed that she had at least lasted longer than more than half of the boys, useless weapon or not. 

And waiting for her, toeing the edge of the grounds, had been the Kingslayer, tucking his hands under her shoulders and hauling her away. She had been too tired by then to care about how he wrapped his arm around her armor and jutted a hard hip out to take her weight as they limped away, the carefully woven blanket of insults and curses that he grumbled trailing behind them. 

Brienne had earned respect that day, but she had also been marked as a fool with little backing, to have fought fairly and to have not even sought out a sponsor to pay for a better horse and weapon. The champions were heralded and revered for moons after.  And she merely faded into the background again.  Except that Jaime had chosen to resume a fragile camaraderie which never found them alone for quite some time.  Yet they did not avoid each other, either, and even sparred together during the daylight. 

It was not precisely a happy time, but she had never been happy in King's Landing.  She was more confused than she had ever been, unsure if she should be focusing on gaining Galladon popularity or earning herself what little honor she could. Either way, being in the Kingslayer's company could not have helped.  She had known that, knew it still, after so long in his presence. And yet while she felt his danger, his humor that balanced precariously towards rage, his trapped youth that caged a boy she had never met inside a man she desperately wanted to understand, he, unlike all the others she had encountered in the city, was just as curious about her as she was of him.  

What was it about Galladon of Tarth that drew in a man like Jaime Lannister? Brienne had not figured that out.  But, at least the harsh, booming voice that had echoed in her head that he was like all the rest, that he was using her, that her secret would be found, had quieted over the years, leaving only the agonizingly sweet flutter of her stomach whenever he gave her that easy smile she had only ever seen when it was just the two of them. 

Those simple, maidenly and terrifying feelings she let sweep over her as she finally locked the door to her chambers and breathed out. Making her way towards her bed, she used one hand to muss the careful part that she put in her hair every morning, following the fashion that the younger knights were wearing, while her other loosened the bindings on her chest.  She had hardly any breasts to speak of, the small swells she had hoped would grow disappearing under the muscle that had packed on to her chest with years of knightly training. But, on one occasion, she had removed her mail and armor with the squires, leaving her in a thin tunic, wet with her sweat and cupping her body in a way that the boys’ underclothes did not. Since then, she had pressed down the little juts, to be safe. 

As she neared, she noticed a sealed letter on her pillow, the vivid blue wax imprinted with the sun and moon gleaming in the afternoon light.  Quickly, she made to the edge and snatched up the parchment, hands shaking as they always did with news from home, and she broke it open, nearly tearing it in two in her haste. Her eyes scanned over the familiar hand of her father, letters neat and straight, save for a small pool of ink where he paused in thought or pressed hard in emotion.  There were no inquiries about her, as he assumed she was carving the path for her brother, but unlike the details of her island, as he normally provided, Lord Selwyn’s message was short. 

My dear son.  He walks. Soon

It was what she had been hoping for. Now she did not know why. Relief at her brother's recovery came with a welling of tears catching in her lashes as she blinked, blurring the words on the page.  Her stomach dropped in the same heartbeat, an instant stone of fear as her mind flashed forward to her new future.  Back in dresses, back to lessons of sewing and song, back to the disappointed face of her father as more suitors would inevitably come and go.  Her fate would be even worse if one actually stayed. 

Perhaps, not so far ago, she could still endure that, warm in the knowledge that she had served her family and Galladon was fulfilling his dreams of becoming a knight.  But she had tasted the freedom, the sword, the pleasant stares of men and women who were not repulsed by a hideous maid.  And there was the swirl of gold, bright as the morning sun, and crimson, so dark it was edged in black, that wrapped her up and carried her own fantasies far from the crystal shores of home or the polite smile of Lord Renly. If only she had not known more about Jaime Lannister than any other.  If only he had kept his final mystery to himself and let her not be shackled to the man that he was, hoping for a man he could still become, mourning the man he should have been.  If only.

 

   

When the excitement had settled from the tourney, coating the city in a fine layer of dust that dulled the days afterwards, Brienne received a summons to the throne room. She had only met King Rhaegar with the other boys, when they had first arrived and merely had a moment to bow to him when he toured their practice field or when she happened to stumble upon his party in the halls.  Even from a distance, he was a force, beautiful and regal, truly a man that people could love, but his presence was distant and haunted, as if the burden of his family was a wall with which he was trapped behind.  He was as perfect as a statue, but his eyes, they burned like the sun before the world ended and Brienne feared him.  

But no one could deny his command, so she dragged herself along the unfamiliar halls, never having been in the throne room or any of the grand rooms around it, surprised and nervous that she came upon no others, not even a member of the Kingsguard. When she found the massive, ornate doors thrown open, she realized why.  The chamber was empty, save for a familiar form, draped in white which blazed with the sunlight streaming in through the high windows, shattering into every color she could imagine and playing along cloak and stone and steel. In the hush that echoed from the tall rafters, Brienne's breath was a thunderclap as she took in the sight. It should be painted in some storybook, was her first thought, until she scowled at the notion.  Yes, the Kingslayer and the king's empty throne would make quite the epic. 

At her noise, Jaime turned, smile growing, open, mischievous, friendly, and she wondered if he would look at her any differently as Brienne of Tarth.  But the silly hope died before she could conjure it more solidly as the sliver of annoyance wormed up her spine and she was Galladon again. "You stole the king's seal?" 

"Hardly," he shrugged.  "He was stamping so many letters, he didn't even notice I handed him one more."  

She frowned.  "Why?"  

"Don't you want to see the throne room? Unless you've been held for treason, it seems unlikely you'd see it any other way." 

Ignoring him, her gaze slid past to take in the dark chair, situated on a dais above their heads. The melted and sharp blades of countless swords repelled the light that warmed the rest of the chamber and she shivered at the sight of cold steel, even as she thought it rather precarious looking, seemingly tilting to one side as the pieces had been haphazardly melded together.  Piercing the image of the clean, polished curves and lines of the hall, the Iron Throne was a pile of sticks balanced by a child’s unsteady hand.  Perhaps it would have looked more imposing if the dragon skulls were still hanging from the beams, but still, it captivated her, as it did every other who looked upon it.  

“It’s impressive,” she finally replied, knowing her voice was clouded in awe.  

That satisfied Jaime as he nodded and followed her stare, speaking without looking back at her and making his words roll and bounce through the room, bursting on the tips of the throne.  “King Rhaegar bears the cuts from sitting on it well.  He wears gloves and lines his breeches with leather.”  

“I did not know.” Brienne then realized that she, a mere squire, was alone in the throne room with the Kingslayer.  Shifting uncomfortably, she twisted her head to look along the empty expanse to see the doors were still open.  “Where is everyone?”  

“The king is touring the city.  Prince Lewyn and Ser Oswell are with him now.  I just finished my shift with Ser Barristan.”  He huffed.  “What a dour old man that one is.”  

“You shouldn’t speak of your fellow-“  

Jaime barked a laugh that caught in the crevices and sunk into the floor. It silenced her just as he finally turned, a sneer darkening his handsome features.  “Give me a history lesson, boy.  Tell me of how King Rhaegar came to sit in that uncomfortable chair.”  

“You know how…”  

“Yes,” he snarled.  “I know how.  But tell me what you’ve been taught.” 

Galladon may not have been able to do so.  He had never enjoyed learning about the past, his mind always on the part he would play in the future.  But, for her, it had been like another one of the tales from the songs and she had consumed the accounts of war and love, strife and retribution.  And what greater saga was there than the Mad King Aerys and his gallant prince?  

“It was well known,” she began.  “Amongst those at court that King Aerys was spiraling into paranoia, brutality, and insanity. He was making irrational decisions, forcing out those closest and most loyal to him, defying all counsel. But he was the king and no one in the realm could stand against him.  Except, Prince Rhaegar was loved and there were those that swore to stand behind him if he could bring down his father.”  

“Two of whom were Kingsguard,” Jaime interjected bitterly.

“Yes. Ser Arthur and Prince Lewyn,” she recalled. “They were banished from the city with Prince Rhaegar and any of the men that King Aerys suspected would betray him, which left only the masters that he appointed.”  

“I’d ask you to name them, but I have no doubt you know.  What happened after Aerys had emptied the keep?”  

Brienne knew the rumors of what had occurred inside, but those involved the man that was staring her down as if daring her to speak of them.  So, she chose the known events.  “Prince Rhaegar amassed an army, starting with the Dornish, men from Maidenpool, and most of the Stormlands.  Most notably, the House Baratheon was not present.  It is thought to be concerning the attentions of Lady Lyanna Stark towards Prince Rhaegar and Rob-” She suddenly remembered Jaime’s drunken confession to her long ago and the fear of echoing that name here silenced her.  

Jaime was distracted with the current tale to even pause to scare her further. He waved his hand for her to continue. “But the Starks did align with Rhaegar.”  

“After some time,” she quickly responded.  “And none know what turned them, since they came when it seemed that the prince’s army could not outlast King Aerys’s supply routes that were still feeding and equipping the city.”  

Jaime nodded, appearing bored, until he arched a golden brow. “And the Lannisters?”  

Knowing he would eventually ask about his own family’s part of history, she sighed, trying to recall not just what her scowling septa had told her, but what she had read in books with words not as laced with disdain and contempt as those of her teacher. “Lord Tywin had his…difficulties with the king, but he was never openly supportive of Prince Rhaegar’s claim. He offered his men and his gold only if he was reinstated as Hand…and…” Again, she realized too late that Jaime was leading her somewhere and she should be careful where she let this go.  

“And?”  

“And if you would be removed from the Kingsguard.” They were indeed speaking of perilous matters now, as few knew why only part of that arrangement had been enacted without Lord Twyin’s wrath.  

“But here I am,” Jaime replied with a graceful hand flourishing over his armor and swirling his white cloak as he walked closer to her.  “So, what next?”  

Next…next. She tried to recall, but it was difficult to bring up her lessons with the man in question glaring at her, flashing between the Kingslayer of the stories and Jaime Lannister that she thought she knew…

Chapter Text

“The Lannisters joined Prince Rhaegar and together they managed to break into the city.” Brienne paused, frowning.  “Though some believed that the Master of Whispers had a hand in that.” She looked at the Kingslayer, hoping that his usually loose tongue would leak out some truths to all that she had read.  Why else was she here than to know the details that the legends had left out? But he simply grinned, surely knowing what she was waiting for, and remained silent. “Regardless,” she sighed. “They came to the throne room…this room and…” she glanced at the steps, imagining there to be blood on the stone next to where Jaime stood. “And they found the king dead.” 

“Gods, boy, you make even that tale sound boring,” Jaime rolled his eyes dramatically and swept towards the foot of the throne.  “But, I suppose, it was hardly much of an epic.  With Rhaegar openly opposing his maniacal father, everyone had a noble good and valiant to support.” He spat the worlds like bile in his mouth. “He was the obvious choice, the better choice, and that united the realm.  

“But.” With that word, Brienne knew that he had more to tell, more than what she had learned. And she would be lost to decide if she should believe him.  “It divided the Kingsguard.  We are sworn to protect the king first.  And his son was the greatest threat to his life. Arthur and Leywn forsook their vows when they stood by Rhaegar’s side, rather than by Aerys.  And they contradicted everything they had demanded of me.” 

As he spoke, his voice darkened to the molten color of the throne, shoulders hunching and bright green gaze clouding in a storm.  He was not talking to her anymore, but rather to a narrative that had been lurking in the recesses of the heart of a king slayer, a chronicle few would wish to listen to.  

“Is that why you stayed?” Brienne could not help but ask.  

He scoffed. “I had no choice. Aerys was sure that my father would align with Rhaegar and he wanted to keep me near as a hostage, of sorts. And my fellow Kingsguard appeased him. But while they were deafened by the chorus of their prince, I heard the snuffling of rats.” Taking a step towards the throne, he tilted his head to stare at it, face turned to the warm sunlight, while a cold litany spilled from his lips like frost.  “Even you must have known Aerys’s obsession with fire. Everything would ‘burn, burn, burn,’ he’d say.  And, despite having already put countless innocents to the flames, the threat was wholly ignored.” The air hummed with tension and Brienne found herself leaning forwards to catch the leaded, frigid words, turning to ice in her ears. “It shouldn’t have been. I found out that Aerys’s madness was so great that he became sure that he would be betrayed.  Soon. And he would not be killed without turning to ash everything that he and his lineage had built.” 

This was all new, too new, a truth that Brienne could not have fathomed and it was sucking the breath from her lungs like the greedy, heavy secret that it was, pulling her deep into the mire.  “What had his-“  

“The city, fool,” Jaime hissed, spinning away from the throne and stalking towards her so that she backed away and nearly caught her heel in the fine grooves of the floor beneath them.  “Unbeknownst to all, Aerys had managed to store pots of wildfire in every corner of King’s Landing.” Brienne gasped but he ignored her, back to the brilliant light turning him into a shadow stalking her. “And while Rhaegar thought that he was going to bravely and bloodlessly dethrone his father, his entrance through the gates would have killed everyone.” 

In the heat of Jaime’s eyes, Brienne could see it all, the young boy weighted with this knowledge, alone, his father and anyone who could stop the king on the wrong side of the wall, and the true fear and knowing of what a weapon like wildfire could do.  She saw the madness and the burn and the desperation.  “You are sure-“ 

“Oh, aye. And so were the pyromancers I questioned and cut down.  But not before seeing some of the caches myself.  All Aerys had to do was give a word, a word he even whispered in his sleep, and it would all be over.”  

But the city had not flamed. Aerys was dead. He had been killed by the man telling her what none other seemed to know.  “You-“  

“I did what I had to do,” he shrugged.  “I made sure that Aerys never said that word, or any other word, ever again.”  

It could not be possible.  She refused to let him think that he could trick her because she was young and unimportant. “How could no one know this?”  

“Who would care? The other Kingsguard had already killed Aerys by abandoning him. And no one would believe that Tywin Lannister’s son would do such a thing, certainly not Rhaegar Targaryen. He took one look at me and saw only a dangerous, useful tool, one that had to be kept close, lest it gain enough space to lash out.”  

“If you had just said something-“  

“What?” He hounded her again and again she retreated.  “What would it have changed? Aerys would still be dead and Rhaegar would still be king.  I certainly don’t want that throne.”  

“You wouldn’t be the-“  

“The Kingslayer? Yes, I would be.”  

She shied from the deeper meaning behind Jaime’s admission, feeling the heat of the greater importance waft from it like it was sparking from the wildfire his king had hidden.  She would pocket it, let it burn through her until she could take no more and escaped to some quiet place and unwrap all the layers to study it.  But that could not happen with Jaime Lannister watching every expression that leaked out from her struggling stoicism.  And she could never find her thoughts standing in the very room where all these revelations had occurred.  So, she grasped for something safer in the story, knowing even that would most likely haunt her.   “What about leaving the Kingsguard?”  

“After what I had done, Rhaegar didn’t want me out of his sight.  I wasn’t particularly fond of the idea of marrying some young thing and settling in Casterly Rock, either.  So, when he proposed that I be given the choice to stay or leave, I promised to keep my oath.  Though,” he tiredly sighed.  “I’m told the word of the Kingslayer is worth shit.”  

She had most certainly thought so, using that blind truth as a barrier with which she could hide behind when the charms of Jaime were too enticing for the warnings in her head to be heard.  But this, against her will, was splitting cracks in her wall with which she could see him clearly. “Why?” she nearly moaned in defeat. “Why are you telling me this?”  

“I don’t know,” he laughed humorlessly.  “Maybe because you are too much like the boy I once was.  Maybe because I hate the way you look at me sometimes. Maybe because it doesn’t really matter if you know.”  

Jaime watched her and could not know how much those final words were a dunk into an iced lake, a cold blade right to her gut.  For a moment, she had forgotten who she was, that she had her own secret to conceal. To him, she was a squire, a boy, meaningless in the game of the court, seemingly meaningless to him, if he so easily revealed a reality he had hidden from all others in fear of rejection.  Her opinion was nothing to him.  Perhaps he thought whatever expression that he disliked on her ugly face would be wiped clean with his admission.  But she knew she would still be a hideous girl. Boy, she worriedly corrected herself. 

As her heart and mind both panicked for conflicting reasons, Brienne’s skin burst with sweat, the reactions within her needing a physical release from her body. It was a scrambling clasp of her senses to try to keep firm in her thoughts that Galladon of Tarth was the one who now knew the true Jaime Lannister, that it was him who the Kingslayer spoke to.  But if she stayed longer, staring at the Iron Throne, alone in the cavernous, beautiful hall with the man that could dull the brilliance of both, the darkness and the light, she could not trust herself to keep her own confidences.  

He was beginning to frown at her silence, taking slow steps towards her, as if circling a skittish doe.  “I-I won’t tell anyone,” she hurriedly said.  He blinked at that, surprised by her fear, maybe, or that those words were all she had to say concerning everything he had told her.   

As soon as he opened his mouth, though, she ran.  There could be no more discussion, no more confessions, and she most certainly could not take another reminder that he knew nothing about who she really was. Her boots echoed loudly as she skidded and stomped through the chamber.  Jaime did not call after her or follow as she crashed against the hallway and escaped from the heavy burden he had unknowingly dropped upon her own leaded insides.  By herself, she had felt dense enough to quickly sink if she ever stepped off a ship in to the sea, but now, she feared even getting on the deck, lest she crash through the hull and become buried in the center of the world.  So, she ran.

 

  

With time, the onus had been a familiar load. She never forgot that it was there, but with each passing moon without word from her father, without any hint of being able to be freed from this city and the tight web with which it was built with lies, one thread breaking and a whole piece failing to crumble, just to be restored by newer, strong deceits again, it waned.  In the whispers of the keep, she heard many more secrets and scheming and she wondered why Jaime’s were more heinous and shocking to her than all of the rest. 

He had let her be, for a while. And when he had returned to seeking her out, he was crueler than ever, waiting for her to strike, to judge, to prove herself like all the rest.  Some days, his words left her in tears, but only in the solitude of darkened corridors and only for the mere heartbeats that her wall slipped.  When nothing changed between them, save perhaps his piercing words that sliced through her armor and she responded from instinct buried deep under lessons of a lady and fear for her mouth leading her head, snapping at him as if he was just another squire taunting her, the venom in his deep voice lightened. And life settled into a routine that seemed simple and easy, but had Brienne humming in a tension that threaded through her limbs and forced her eyes awake at night, thinking perhaps if she just concentrated, she could sense the moment that it would all change. 

But she had grown too lax in her watch, too comfortable in the discipline of a knight.  Rise.  Eat.  Exercise.  Spar.  Tend to horse and armor and sword. Eat.  Play cards and feign drinking.  Sleep.  And laced within it all was Jaime, there when she practiced or when she supped or when she sat beside Allard Seaworth, watching him take his winnings in the coin and trinkets of the other boys.  That would all be gone. 

With a sigh, Brienne tossed the parchment into the fire in her room, as she had done with all the rest, and watched as the flames licked and curled at the dry paper, eating up the blackened edges and absorbing it into its heat until there was nothing left.  Still she stared, entranced by the hot brightness shimmering in the air and dancing above the wood.  It washed away the vestiges of her despair, leaving a hollow shell with which to fill with its fires that could claim and purify.  But fire could not help her and she would not succumb to its madness like the last king. 

Instead she decided to cleanse herself another way. Most of the knights and nobles she had seen on the tourney field and the servants were too busy to attend her, so she thought it safe to make her way to the baths.  She had used them often as a squire, but the privilege of having a tub and hot water sent to her chambers and then left in peace was the highest benefit of being knighted, despite how rarely she used it. But there was a cake of hard soap by her wash bowl and a large towel in her chest of meager belongings, wrapped around delicate pieces of her precious armor, and she gathered these up with a fresh tunic and breeches and left her rooms. 

There was a pleasant hush in the halls, as she did not even come across a cat in her venture deeper into the keep where the baths were.  In her dreams, she would walk down the corridors and twirl about the courtyards of a quiet city, long abandoned, she imagined, in a time past her own, where her name was forever lost, along with everyone's she knew.  It felt like that now, though the sunlight was pleasant and the air tasted wet with a coming afternoon storm, rather than with the tight chill in her dreams, cold blue beams of the moon guiding her way.  Like this, she could almost enjoy herself, thinking of a life here where she could steal moments in the vast hive, brimming with energy, to be herself and alone.

The bath chamber was indeed empty, but, thankfully, there were pails of water and a large fire spitting and roaring in the hearth. Brienne carried a stool over to a large copper tub close to the windows so that she could look out upon the graying sky and watch the sun wink out behind heavy clouds.  Placing her items down, she set about positioning two buckets on an iron beam above the flames to warm while she proceeded to undress. 

By the time she had wrangled off her boots and tossed her sweat sodden clothing to the floor, the water was starting to hiss, pluming out puffs of white steam.  Using hard tiles of leather, she took the handles from the bar and carefully hobbled over to the tub, keeping her arms wide so that the hot metal or the boiling liquid did not brush against her calves.  

The stone beneath her sizzled as she set one of the buckets down and used both strips of hide to lift and pour the other's contents, steam rising and coating her face as she watched the copper undulate and roll under the water.  Then she dumped the other pail, splashing some over the sides in her haste to be finished and immersed in suds and heat, to scrub away the day and start anew. 

The first dip of her pale, goosepimpled flesh was a scorch to her leg and as she moved to place her other foot in the tub, she watched redness rise up from her toes and sweep towards her torso. She waited for her body to absorb the heat, taking in the new, calming but bordering on uncomfortable, sensation. And then, she started to sit.

Chapter Text

Jaime was a streak of fury as he near sprinted from Cersei's chambers.  It was yet another fruitless argument with her, once again making him wonder how they could have ever mirrored each other's expressions, shared in the thrumming of their hearts, when now every passing emotion on her beautiful face was new and more horrifying. Her jade eyes were glassy with fantasies that he could not see and did not want to fathom, breathily sighing over her expectations of her tourney champion, her soon to be lord husband, her perfect children in her perfect castle.  Her new power. 

"I'll have time to secure my son a seat in the small council," she had said, though she was busy skimming her lithe fingers along scattered scrolls of parchment on her desk, hardly even acknowledging her twin’s presence.  By the pride and poison in her voice, she knew she had struck a damaging blow. Cersei had always wanted children, another reflection to gaze upon, void of the taint from any other bloodline, and blamed him for her constant drink of wine and moon tea. But Rhaegar had ended the Targaryen tradition, already betrothing his siblings and children to other powerful houses in the realm.  The prince that was promised will spread his seed.  And a union of brother and sister was no more.       

Now, she was dressed in thick and firm silks of crimson, as was her usual, rigid ornaments of beaten and molded gold wrapped around her slim wrists, dipping into her corseted bust, and cinching her waist. “I’ll build Casterly an army that no one in the realm could rival,” she swore.  “Use all the coin Father has secured to create allies in Essos and to buy favor in the Red Keep, so that even the Master of Whispers will be silenced with my hold. It will be so easy, now that I'm in control of our name, to make Lannister even more formidable than Targaryen." 

"Except your name won't be Lannister anymore," Jaime had snarled lowly, hating himself more for even attempting to reason with her.  He had seen her like this before, locked in her schemes, over a match when Rhaegar was prince, over her victory of manipulating Jaime into the Kingsguard, over her freedom from being wed to Robert Baratheon.  No one, especially not him, could stop the lioness on the hunt. 

She smiled at him, a serene, knowing leer that yanked the lips he had thought to be his, and batted pale, long lashes. "Jealous?" she huffed. "Who’s to say my lord husband will not take a more powerful name than his own?" 

"And what makes you think he'll be to your liking?" he had retorted.  He would not kill another one, if that was her game.  "Lord Longthorpe's champion looks imposing. But he will not likely outlast the Mountain." 

Laughing, a light and feminine song that had purred like chimes in her bright chambers wrapped in airy, gossamer curtains, a sweet facade that hid her darker moods, she tossed her hand dismissively. "Do you think that I would agree to this mockery if I did not know that I could weed out the worthless?" She sniffed and returned to perusing her messages, while Jaime wondered what they contained and how deeply she had coerced and charmed. "Why did you come?" 

He had no idea, not really.  Since that night they had argued and she had thrown him out into the cold evening, yet again, and he had sworn never to find himself between her legs, they had seen each other little.  And he had been sure to avoid being alone with her. But, fickle as she was stunning, Cersei decided he still had use and would make it a habit to lure him to her. He refused every time, though she managed to chip off a piece of him at each occasion, most likely melting and mending the shards together to make a more pliable brother, indiscernible even to himself. 

"Did Ser Galladon send you?" Jaime did not award her with as much of a response as he felt, merely glancing at her from the corner of his eyes and pulling back his lips warningly. She had never feared him, though, and his reaction was enough to make her shoulders straighten in triumph. "He must be too heartbroken to compete for my hand."

He had been a new toy for Cersei, though he had not been the prize. Jaime was unsure when she had noticed that he and the boy had become friends.  He had not even been sure that was what they were.  The lad had simply been the only one still about the keep the last night that Jaime allowed himself to be weak enough to take Cersei, just a poor fool he had drunkenly stumbled upon after he had hoped that wine would soak up his shame and anger, as it seemed to for his pristine sister, a small part of his mind recalling where he should usually be after his short periods in her bed.  And who would listen to some squire, if he told? Galladon had few friends, keeping his pride and sense of duty, his illusions of what a true and heroic knight should be, closer to him than any of the boys that would actually become knights.  When Jaime had awoken late the next morning and gathered up the tattered recollections of his evening, he had little concern that his secret would be revealed. 

There had been something more about Galladon, something beneath the ugly, twisted, scowling face.  And it intrigued Jaime, the determined way he fought, the subtle kindness he favored to his competitors, the innocence, laced with whispers of right and good, with which he cloaked himself in. It should all make Jaime hate him, make him hungry to watch the wolves and krakens and dragons tear him apart in a feeding frenzy, as he was easy and vulnerable prey.  But when the boys did not and Jaime himself tried to use his name and prestige as a shield, he realized that there was something different. And he had to know what it was. 

So, when the King had been discussing which of his squires to knight, Jaime had decided that this time, he would knowingly reveal to Galladon another of his secrets.  The boy needed to realize what oaths could do to a man, how the noblest of them could make monsters and nightmares.  He wanted him to open his eyes, to understand that the sweet, simple vows were a shroud to something dark and sinister, that in this world of lies and hate and power, all precious things would die, leaving a void that would never be filled. Galladon must know that the words he said could never shackle him and the words he had lived by must be left like a worn tunic he had grown out of. 

And as soon as Galladon had been titled, Cersei had itched to sink her claws into fresh meat.  It had started off as her pouting about never being able to catch Jaime alone, for their time, because the boy was a pesky shadow.  But when her lazy attempts at a selfish seduction did not bring Jaime back to her sheets, she turned her attention on Galladon.  He had developed into a strong and tall young man, but had not grown into his mouth, large lips and crooked teeth, or broken nose, hardly an enticement for a lady. He was fierce and powerful, though, with eyes as blue as the brightest sapphires, caged in long lashes the color of an undisturbed beach.  Jaime thought they were better suited for a pretty maiden, but he had heard some such girls breathily whisper about their handsomeness and figured they could forget the rest of the brute, save, of course, the size of what he must hide in his breeches. 

Galladon had shied away from his admirers with promises to another on Tarth, thinking that this would keep the women at bay, and Jaime could only laugh when they circled tighter at the prospect of a young, strapping, devoted knight.  But Cersei was more persistent and Galladon had relented to her company. At first, the ruse had worked, Jaime spiking with jealousy when she had told him they had been alone, only to hear from the boy, whom he realized he trusted more, that an escort was always present. Clearly, she had no desire in marred, unsightly things and was only attempting to incite her distant brother. After some time of Jaime snarling and snapping at Galladon did he comprehend what he truly missed was the young man's company.  It also became evident that he was just as miserable having to politely entertain his friend's sister, and a powerful lady at that, without any hopes of escape. If Cersei wanted to drag on the mummery, she could shackle the poor lad in marriage.  And Jaime would not think about their wedding night. 

But, as he fought to control his ire, his lack of response bored Cersei and she gave up on tempting him with lustfully vacant eyes at Galladon.  The boy most likely had no notion he was a piece in the twins’ game and because of his stubborn faith in humanity, seemed to have thought Cersei's affections to be for true. When she began to ignore him again, he accepted it as having been a mere fancy, until a more attractive and bold knight stole her attention.  It was then that Jaime realized that Galladon was well aware that he would never take a noble bride from desire, perhaps even his love at home did not return his feelings.  Had the boy ever even kissed a girl? Yet, somehow, the subject did not feel enjoyable or humorous enough to bring up. 

And now, Cersei was trying to unearth old tricks, too indifferent to even try to lure him with something novel, not that it would let her succeed.  He, too, could toss out cold apathy. “He most certainly doesn’t seem to be wanting, what with the younger maidens hoping to give him their favors.” 

She had scowled at him.  “They most certainly are not fawning over you.” 

“You’d be surprised, sweet sister. Women wrinkle and sag, but a man’s sword still strikes true for quite some time.” 

That had done it.  Cersei had snatched up her wine cup and lobbed it at him, shattering and staining the stone behind his shoulder, screaming, “Get out!” 

So, Jaime had left, though he knew not where to go. The other knights were busy preparing their tents on the tourney field and he was free from his duties for the evening. Despite the cooler morning, his tunic was near saturated with his sweat, anger and humiliation heating him to the core, while the air was beginning to become heavy, preparing to be sliced with fat summer raindrops.  The desire to lock himself away and clean himself of wicked words and musty compulsions brought him to the baths, without even clean clothes to change into. It did not matter since the grime was deep within him and only a long steep in searing water would manage to make him feel right again. 

Even if he had wanted a bath in his private, small chamber in the White Tower, he doubted he would have been able to hunt down a servant not already laden with enough duties to take the time to be at hand for him.  The last thing he needed was to see another face, though, so the baths would serve his purpose and the labor of drawing his own would settle the still frazzled edges of his thoughts, spiking and blurring half notions that flitted in and out of focus. 

So, when he pushed open the heavy doors to the tall and wide hall, he was surprised to find a body about to settle into one of the furthest tubs.  Before his mind could catch up, he had already identified the wild mop of thin, straw hair, the thick neck buried in muscled shoulders.  And of course, there was the skin, paler than any he had seen, splattered with freckles from blotches of dark mud to dustings of golden flakes. In the light leaking through the windows, that brilliant shine like the sun was fighting off being forced behind black clouds, Jaime could see beading water trailing down from torso to legs. 

“Galladon-“ he started to cheerily greet. If there was one man he was pleased to see, it was him. 

But, he started at Jaime’s voice and when he instinctively turned, it was Jaime who was rigid with shock.  In the flash that he glimpsed before this-this creature spun from him and hid under the water, he saw breasts, small and hardly a palm full, but raised clumps nonetheless, and a nest of blonde curls between sturdy thighs, so light in color that Jaime could see the plump lips that were peaking beneath the coarse bush dewy with tears of water.  In spite of how unsightly and red and bulky this body was, that clothed he was sure it was of an unfortunately built man, with a horrid face to match, naked, there was no doubt that this was a woman.  That Galladon was a woman. 

“What the Seven fucking Hells-“ 

“Ser Jaime…” he, she did not look at him, huddled as she was, clasping her legs and burrowing her chest between them.  She was Galladon again, the man that he knew, with the only parts that made her a woman hidden away once more. 

But she was not Galladon.  He did not know who she was, except that she was a liar. And there he stood, staring at yet another that had deceived him, used him, considered him fool enough to be manipulated.  She had been right to think that of him, though she had at least duped the rest of the city as well. 

It had been such a clever enough farce that he could not believe the beseeching, hurting blue eyes that shone with tears when this witch finally glanced at him.  “Please,” she nearly sobbed. 

Whatever it was she wanted, he would not give her. Spinning on his heel, he stalked from the room, making sure that the doors slammed with a resounding finality, trying to ignore that he could still hear her piteous whimper slice through the crash of wood, his leaded footsteps, the fury and despair that hammered blood into his ears, feeling like he was sinking into the abyss. She was nothing but a twofaced wench, a false friend.  And he ignored the small spark in him that screamed that she had never asked for anything from him. 

Not yet. But she would have. She will.

Chapter Text

The rain that had begun as Jaime stormed from the baths continued for days after, flooding the tourney field, sagging banners and tents, and driving the entirety of visiting knights and nobles and their retinue into the keep.  It was packed tightly, fit to burst, only fueling Jaime's rage as there was nowhere to go for peace, no corridor or alcove not filled with bodies. The odds that one of them was the girl were even greater like this.  It drove him to madness. 

Until one early morning, before he was to spend the rest of his day watching Rhaegar hold court and entertain commonfolk and lords alike with his feigned interest, the clouds had dissipated enough that though stone and grass was sodden with fresh water, there was none falling from the sky.  While others journeyed to the field to survey and salvage, he trudged to one of the small gardens, feet squelching in the running mud.  No one would want to mess their skirts or fine boots in the mire, he figured. It may be some respite until the clouds filled again. 

But he was not alone in thinking to find some tranquility out here, stopping in a puddle and uncaring as he caught sight of a familiar form.  At first, his heart flapped in greeting, mind washing with the years of blossoming friendship that Jaime had had with Galladon, before it turned dark and rotten, sinking like a stone into his belly as he recalled the reason why he had hoped to be alone and angry. He-she looked up at the sound of his approach, sitting on a bench, dressed in a wet tunic and breeches, seemingly having been there before the rain had cleared.  Her eyes widened at spotting him, opening her mouth to speak, though all that it did was work furiously against words that would not come, while he cursed himself for falling under the trance of that gaze he had thought he knew so well, the one he had laughed at for being easily discernible, the one he had agreed with the fawning ladies was the most beautiful. 

He jerked away from her and made to leave but she sprung from her seat and said, "Ser Jaime, please wait." 

He wanted to abandon her there, miserable, but he was terribly curious of what lies she thought could be better than any a Lannister would birth.  He knew he should be careful, though, since she had made him think his cruel words could hurt her.  Even her tears had most likely been a mummery. 

"What do you want, bo-wench?" he attempted to snarl menacingly. 

She winced, twisting her monstrous features more. Another game.  "I-I owe you an explanation." 

"Careful," he chuckled darkly and took a step towards her.  You're the one who should be afraid, not me. "You know how Lannisters feel about debts." 

"And y-yet there is still one betw-tween u-us," she bravely replied. 

Folding his arms across his golden plated chest, a movement that she watched before snapping her eyes to his feet, he nodded. "Tell me more lies, then. And perhaps I'll let you leave, if you never come back." 

"No!" she cried, shooting her head up. "Please.  I-I will leave b-but Galladon must stay." 

Jaime frowned at that, curiosity growing. "What?" 

With a sigh, she played with her hands, a nervous gesture of Galladon's that meant he was considering his words intently. "Galladon, the real Galladon, is coming soon.  I am merely holding his place." 

She spoke his name with such tenderness and sincerity. Maybe she was the love she had mentioned.  Maybe Galladon did not return her affections, large and ugly and wholly unfeminine as she was. Maybe he did not even know she was here. "Did you kidnap him?" 

"What?" she bristled. "Of course not." So the dutiful boy had been her. "He was injured after the call came from King Rhaegar.  And Lord Selwyn had hoped he would recover and could arrive later." 

"You expect me to believe you are merely a place holder for the true heir to Tarth?" Her lies were not so good, then. "That Selwyn chose a girl to be his son?" 

"Yes." She tilted her chin up, proudly guarding her statement.  "No one would notice when he comes to take my place.  We look alike enough.  Or," here she paused, less sure of herself.  "We did, last I saw him." 

"And that was when?" 

"Before I left for King's Landing." 

It did not seem she truly wanted to tell him a truth. He had to extract it from her like a dagger's blade buried in a tree.  Stepping impatiently into her space, careful not to be too close that he had to strain to look up, he demanded, "Who are you?" 

"Brienne," she sighed. "Brienne of Tarth." When he continued looking at her expectantly, she slumped back down to the bench. "Lord Selwyn's daughter." 

Jaime blinked in surprise at that. And then he laughed for believing it. "Come, wench. You've lied to me for years. Can't you come up with anything better?" 

She scrunched her nose in agitation before calming her features again.  "I wouldn't expect you to know anything about a minor house." 

Perhaps Tyrion would, though.  He stored the information away to be studied later.  For now, he allowed her to play out her tale.  "So you are Galladon's sister?" 

"Yes." 

"And Lord Selwyn thought he could part with you to ensure that his son could maintain a place at King Rhaegar's side." 

"Galladon is heir and Tarth is a precarious alliance," Brienne explained.  "It's more important that he find himself a powerful match and gain the king's trust than it is for me to...to fulfill my duties as the second so-child." 

"Why is it so vital to be close to the king?” he nearly roared.  “Why befriend me? Trying to gain the trust of another king slayer? Hoping to use me so that your dear brother may betray Rhaegar?" 

"No!" she endearingly cried, gripping the edges of the bench to keep herself seated.  "How could you think that of me?" Jaime was wondering how he could have ever thought her a man, despite her masculine appearance. She had shifted now, seeming an innocent, desperate maiden.  Gods, is she even a maiden? Or has she used what's between her legs, what's the same as any other woman in the dark, to get what she wants? And yet there was still a vein of the gallant, honorable Galladon scowling at his accusation.  "Look at me. My mother is dead, my other siblings are dead, and I'm a hideous monster that no man would ever want, that no man has ever wanted.  Galladon is the last chance at Tarth surviving after my father passes.  He just didn't want to lose his opportunity." 

Jaime snorted dismissively, though he could not find the sliver of dishonestly in her voice.  But he had to know everything, deceits and truths.  And if she talked enough, perhaps she would slip. "And me?" 

At that, she gave pause, allowing Jaime to see how she looked when she was trying to keep something back, as it was clear she was working out a safe reply.  “I know…knew Galladon well.  And it was easy, at first, to play him, thinking that it would only be a short time. But, it became difficult, too confusing, and I knew I would make some mistake, always having to think about my reactions…” The quirk of his brow must have drawn her attention, as she glanced at him and shrugged.  “I would have to think more.  Eventually, it just became simpler to stay true to myself as much as I could.” 

“You didn’t answer my question, wench.” 

She huffed.  “I’m trying.  I’m sure Galladon will be unhappy with some of the decisions that I’ve made.  But I made them for myself. There’s no motive or scheme or anything other than that I’m trying desperately to give him some possibility to start a life as he wishes here.  Until then, it’s my life.” 

“You’ve made quite a mess for him, then,” Jaime grouched.  “A knight you may be, but with few companions, fewer women left thinking there’s a chance in your bed, and with the Kingslayer as your closest friend.” 

“Are you still that, ser?” she asked quietly. And there was a soft hope in her pretty gaze that Jaime wanted to bash into the stone. 

“I was Galladon of Tarth’s friend. The one that I’ve known since he was a boy.  But that squire never existed, so I could have been no one’s friend.” 

Waiting just long enough to see her face crumple, blue waters winking out of his sight under heavy lashes, he watched her lower lip trembling until she bit it with her protruding teeth and turned away so he could not see his success.  Then, when he had taken a satisfying look, he spun around, sure to have his muddied white cloak swirling by his calves, and left her.  He expected to be lighter, making her feel just as she had made him, but the painful patter of his heart was still dragging along in the wet dirt as he arrived for his long duty of guarding the king.

Chapter Text

The entire day, he turned over what she had said, inspecting all the sharp edges and watching it catch the light and drink in the darkness.  If there were lies hidden within, she was adept at concealing them.  But Jaime knew he was not as keen at sifting through the half-truths to pull out any small deceits that could be melded into a larger, dangerous one.  After all, he had let his sister fool him into thinking that she loved him, that all they did was to one day be together.  The girl was most likely after a similar prize as Cersei, power and fear.  Jaime just needed to understand how she and her father planned on doing it. 

So, when his shift had ended, he sought out the only person that he now trusted.  And the smartest one in the realm.  Tyrion was lounging in his chambers, sheltered from the rain that had begun again, as everyone else, but unlike the other nobles, the doors to his balcony were thrown open, wet wind whipping up the heavy satin drapes and sprinkling droplets inside. His brother did not seem to mind, reclined in a massive chair by the fire, books propping up his feet and scattered by the stand at his arm.  Not even looking up from the tome in his lap when Jaime entered, he merely gestured short, fat fingers to the seat across from him. 

“To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit, Jaime?” he said with a small smile. 

Groaning as he tried to sit in his armor, Jaime grinned back.  “Why do I have to have a reason to see you, brother?” 

“You don’t.” Green and black gazes finally looked up at him.  “But you think so loudly I’m tempted to call a servant to plug my ears.” 

Jaime grimaced.  “Rhaegar didn’t seem to mind all day.” 

“The king’s thoughts could drown out the bells of Baelor.  Now, what is bothering you?” 

“Tell me about Tarth.” 

That earned an amused quirk of thick brows. Not surprise, though close enough to it for Tyrion.  “I don’t think that I am the most knowledgeable man you know about that small island and relatively insignificant house.” 

“You are the only person I trust to tell me everything you know,” Jaime replied evenly. 

In the quiet, the gentle pelt of rain on stone echoed dully.  “I don’t suppose you’ll satisfy my curiosity about that?” Tyrion asked, closing his book. When Jaime shook his head, he simply shrugged.  “I thought not. Well, let’s see. Tarth…” He tapped his chair and searched the fire for his vast knowledge.  “Well, you do know that the generations are of Andal descent, namely from Ser Galladon of Morne.  Morne, you may not have learned, is the once great seat when they were kings.  Galladon was called the Perfect Knight, so much that the Maiden herself fell in love with him and gifted him a sword he called the Just Maid, that no mortal edge could stop.  But Galladon, being gallant and impartial, refused to use it against a mere man, knowing the outcome of any fight.” 

Before Jaime could rein in his tongue, he grunted and said, “Sounds like Galladon has been reborn, though much uglier.” 

Tyrion looked at him pointedly. “The tales do not say Galladon was handsome, only a good knight.” 

How often has Brienne heard that story when she was a child? Jaime attempted indifference and waved for his brother to continue.  “But Tarth is no longer important?” 

“Oh no,” Tyrion said.  “The western coast has been a port for many a king’s fleet. And the east shore is vulnerable to invaders from Essos.  Prince Aemon Targaryen died fighting off pirates from Myr, who had tried to take Tarth first, before heading inland.  I have no doubt King Rhaegar understands just how important the house’s fealty is to the crown.” 

“And if he thought Tarth to waver in its loyalty?” 

“Jaime,” Tyrion started warningly, but was met with hard silence.  He huffed. “If that occurred, I’m sure the king would take the island and place a more reliable lord in the seat.” 

And what would happen to its current holder and his children was something Jaime did not want to consider.  “But Lord Selwyn has proven himself, has he not?” 

Tyrion shrugged.  “His heir is close at hand.  He would be a fool to try to defy the throne with his son here. Last I heard, his daughter has been unable to attract any notable suitors for Tarth to align to.” 

“Daughter?” Do not show anything, Jaime

“One other surviving child,” Tyrion answered without seeming to notice if Jaime revealed anything in his expression or tone. “Brienne of Tarth, I believe. She is Galladon’s younger sister. Has he not mentioned her?” Jaime shook his head, making Tyrion frown.  “I would have thought him to be protective and proud of his family.” The real Galladon may not be, but she is.  “The girl is said to have lost a number of potential husbands, the young for her looks and the old for her stubbornness.” Jaime snorted, but turned it in to a cough when his brother eyed him carefully.  “That was some time ago, though.  All I know now is that she must still be unmarried, or else I would have heard.” 

So, there had been minor truths. Tarth was indeed a tumultuous alliance that was firmed by the heir being under the king’s eye. And the wench had been unsuccessful at doing her own duty for her family.  Of course, the least she could think to do, then, was to help her brother carry out his own.  That was the Galladon he knew. Brienne, he corrected. 

“Thank you, Tyrion.” He clapped his hands on his knees and made to stand. 

But Tyrion threw up a finger and pointed it back towards the chair.  “And aren’t you wondering about our Galladon? A knight he may have been made, but he’s in the same position as his sister, as far as betrothals.” 

“There’s some girl at-“ 

“At home, yes, yes,” Tyrion chuckled. “Only you would still believe that, after all these years, any young love could remain true.” 

You mean, I used to believe, brother. “Galladon is not like me.” 

“No, he doesn’t have the oaths of a Kingsguard to explain his seeming celibacy.  But your constant companion has raised questions about you both.” Tyrion gave him an apologetic smirk.  “They think you are lovers.” 

Days ago, Jaime would have laughed at that. And then told Galladon so that the boy could share in his mirth.  He laughed now, but it was harsh and painful, a wheeze forced out of a chest raw from shouting his fury and trying to break open his heart. If only they knew the truth. And what would they do? A young maiden, as far as they knew, being dogged by the Kingslayer.  And allowing it. They would mock her for being unappealing and awkward, him for being desperate and an oath breaker. Again.  The thought stopped his laughter. 

"Cersei gave the boy some attention," he grunted.  "That should have been enough to stop the rumors." 

"And yet she must have found him lacking," his brother countered.  "As she is now leaving it up to the gods as to whom her husband will be." 

"She is leaving it up to deep pockets and her own conspiring, you mean." 

"Of course, but few know of our sister's...darker desires," Tyrion bowed his head.  "She uses her beauty to mask her true self, the one that hungers for power and control that only a man can earn, or so she thinks.  And, unless someone has spent time in her company or displeased her, who would think a lady as captivating and sweet as she to be harboring thoughts of war and gold?" He looked up then, piercing Jaime with a shrewd stare. "And what if she was ugly? What would she hide with that guise, then? What could she hide?" 

It would not have mattered to Jaime. He would have still been foolishly besotted and she could have buried any secret she had wanted behind her hideous face.  "I'm not in the mood for your games, Tyrion." 

"Then answer me this.  Why all of the questions of Tarth? And why to me?" 

"I've already told you." Jaime made to rise again, but Tyrion's next words dropped him into his chair. 

"Brienne has told you?" 

"What?" It was a shaking and tremulous question, hardly heard above the whisper of rain and fabric, the gutter of the fire with the wind. 

Tyrion frowned.  "You...do not know?" 

"I know," Jaime nearly barked a laugh. "Oh, I know. But how do you know? Did he..." His mind flashed for a moment, flipping through images to place a name and a title to the person he had watched grow.  Fierce and determined, naked and vulnerable.  "Did she tell you?" 

"Gods, no," Tyrion chuckled. He waved his hand, conjuring an explanation in the humid air.  "Ugly sees beyond ugly, I suppose.  I was curious about this boy that had caught your attention.  He was too kind and humble and noble, too untouched by the bitterness and greed in the world.  That changed quickly, the more you set your sights on him.  But there was still something, perhaps the same thing that you noticed, as well." 

"Never mind that," Jaime snapped. "How did you know?" 

"I may be a dwarf, but I'm not dull," Tyrion smiled and it bunched up his nose and wrinkled his jutted forehead. All Jaime could do was slouch in his chair and let his beloved brother have his fun with his incompetence. "Not to say that you are," he continued without even attempting to seem genuine. "But as she grew, it became quite clear that those eyes and that wrapped chest and those meager hips did not belong to a man." 

"And what about the muscles all over her? The balance on horse or in combat? That she looks like a man? That she acted and disguised herself as one?" 

Tyrion merely shrugged.  "I haven't survived this long accepting only what others tell me they are. I decide for myself. And the more I looked into Tarth and Selwyn's remaining children, the more I was convinced that Brienne was the squire sent here, not Galladon." 

"And did you know why?" Perhaps there was something that Jaime knew about his once constant companion that Tyrion had not surmised. 

"I imagined that Galladon was dead or perhaps run off."  He tapped his book thoughtfully. "Or he had gone mad or lost his wits.  It was apparent that Brienne is skilled, better than most of the other boys.  Maybe she had snuck away to prove herself worthy of a knight. She certainly has, regardless of what's between her legs." 

"If you weren't sure, how could you know if she was harmless?" It was the issue that was still plaguing him. Should he trust Brienne as he had Galladon, as his gut told him to do, or did this one act define her? His own single moment had marked him, after all.  But he had not wanted it to.  And despite her betrayal, Jaime could not gather up his usual faithful anger to make him want to see her tumble down the same dark path he had run through. 

"I didn't, not really.  In this city, is anyone really harmless? Is anyone not keeping back some deceit? Just because it was towards you, Jaime, doesn't make her any more heinous than the rest of them." 

"No," he spat.  "It makes her just like them." 

"Jaime," Tyrion pressed, leaning in his chair to make his brother look at him.  "She is not Cersei." 

He swallowed.  The thought had not even been voiced in his head, but it had clanged around like a ghost banging on the shutters, a voidless sound that could not be ignored. 

"She could not be, even if she tried. You know this." 

That, thankfully, sparked off his wet, hibernating fury, drying it up and inflaming him.  "I know nothing about her." 

Tyrion sighed, resignedly sitting back. "Perhaps you know nothing of yourself.  You are being stubborn and feeling hurt.  But the love you have had for Galladon is still there.  You just need to give it to Brienne." 

"She lied." 

"For her family," he easily responded. "As have you. And now you are making her suffer. Has she not trusted and loved you back, just to have you toss her out at the first fault you've found? She kept her promise to her father, which was made before she met you." 

"Suddenly I find out she's a woman and you speak as if we are lovers," Jaime snarled.  "She's been a boy for all that I've thought to know her." 

"And now you know her fully." Tyrion smiled wickedly.  "And I did say it's been thought you two bedmates for quite some time." 

That brought Jaime’s mind back to the baths, the steam of the water curling and exploding over pale, toned legs, water caressing and catching at the wiry blond hair resting between them, rosy nipples tightening and reaching to him as soon as those brilliant blue eyes caught him, darkening in recognition.  She had been wet and trembling, a startled doe strong enough to rip him apart with large hands that were wrapped around her muscled arms to hide her softer parts from his hungry gaze.  Seven hells, he was nearly hard at that image, and at the realization that the hunted look she occasionally gave him was very much like his own whenever he had been away from Cersei for too long. 

But she was just a girl.  If he was to believe all else she had been, all the wisdom Tyrion had imparted, she was likely not experienced at all, which only tugged at his cock and forced upon him the frighteningly thrilling notion of laying her on sheets and watching her gasp and moan for him.  Just for him.  Because she had let no man touch her, let alone know her, save him.  She had risked the secret she kept for her house’s honor to be close to someone. 

He shook off the fantasy, disgusted with himself. Jaime had known her only as a boy. Had Cersei truly tainted him that he could not even desire a true woman again? Yet, he had never had those desires of Brienne when she was Galladon.  Had he? 

"Now, your thoughts are as loud as Rhaegar's," Tyrion interrupted. 

Groaning, Jaime washed his face with his rough palms, hoping to rub off the last days of this nightmare.  But when he opened his eyes, his brother was still regarding him, studying him as he did with his piles of books and parchments, another piece to fit in to the world he had created within his head. There was much Jaime had not told him, more that he thought that Tyrion knew anyway.  But there were still some secrets that, if he were a praying man, he would beg the gods that would be buried with him. Yet, Brienne was aware of more of them than any other.  And she had remained with him.  Jaime just had to decide if it was because she accepted him or if it was because what she needed of him was worth her honor.  That is not the wench I knew

“Thank you, Tyrion,” he sighed. “But all they are doing are going in circles.” 

Tyrion nodded in understanding. “Then, stop thinking. And start acting. It’s what you’re better at, anyway.”

Chapter Text

While he was dizzy with the thoughts swirling in his mind, consuming his appetite for food, sparring, bathing, even jest, starting as he woke, just to end in the same place when he failed at sleep, Jaime avoided Brienne.  It was easier than having to stumble over how to address her, since he was having difficulty in it sticking even in his mind.  When Addam questioned him about never seeing them together anymore, he had merely said that Galladon had been occupied with some new girl he was hiding. Later, he had come upon Brienne, the lie tugging at the back of his head as she looked down to meet his stare, before quickly glancing away, a flush of scarlet coating her skin and blowing up her dirty freckles. 

She was not there to sit with him for the tourney. After the first day of watching knight and sellsword alike toss their favors at his sister's feet, he had volunteered to make the rounds around the keep while the king was busy entertaining the mummery that was the war for Cersei's cunt and castle. The roaring and the cheering, the clash of steel and the scream of horses still swirled and scaled the walls, thickening the air and towing Jaime's steps.  But at least he did not have to watch anymore of his former lover's flushed and gleeful face as she hardly needed to touch her cup of wine, drunk on the scene before her and the fantasies that kept her warm. 

Once, he had come upon Brienne in the quiet halls, both halting when they saw each other.  Her large mouth opened and closed, lipping words he could not hear, while her face screwed up as if she were in pain and her hands tightened into fists that only succeeded in whitening her rough knuckles.  She was truly an unsightly girl, dressed as he was used to her being, in loose tunic and breeches, her jerkin padding her chest and boots laced haphazardly up to her knees, and he could not shake the notion that she was a boy, that she was Galladon.  Yet he had never had the urge to tuck Galladon into his neck and run his hands up his back to feel the muscles shift. 

Jaime turned away, hearing her heavy sigh, knowing he fled from that need to touch and discover her as a woman more than it was from whatever apology she could spout out now.  

He did not see her again until after the tourney. This time, she found him. He was slogging through a crowd of revelers, bawdy and drunk on the king's wine, as they feigned to celebrate the coming marriage of Cersei Lannister to Oberyn Martell.  It was a smart choice on his sister's part. Dorne was rich and uncharted and now she was linked to the Targaryens.  Oberyn was young, at least, if not also cocky and charming. She would enjoy his bed, Jaime was sure. And she would most certainly enjoy the power.  

He wondered, though, how she had managed to bribe the Mountain into losing the melee.  He was not the most talented on horse, so she must have coerced the more skilled prince from the Summer Isles to fall from his mount when faced with her intended, but Jaime had heard Clegane had bashed through most of his opponents on the field until Martell nearly took out his kneecap with his spear and planted the blunted tip between helm and breast plate at his jugular. 

Soon, Cersei would be gone from the castle, her promise that they would never be parted should he join the Kingsguard, a small thing to be broken now, adding to the cracks in the love that had wrenched them apart well before this final betrayal.  Let her have the Rock and the wasteland, the children she could mold and manipulate, spurted from whatever cock she wanted at the moment, risen to power with whatever gold.  Never mind that she had tried to tell Jaime that she would return, that she would take moon tea and only father his offspring, that he could finally tell Rhaegar he no longer wanted to be bound to him or the Targaryen court.  But Jaime certainly did not want to be shackled to his sister anymore, either. The pain of this final tear was just a dull throb, an old wound that would pester him throughout his years, but it would not cripple him. 

Yet when Brienne's warm palm wrapped around his arm and he turned to find her blue eyes looking over him, as if he was porcelain, as if she could see his breaks, something deep and sharp took his breath. 

"Ser Jaime," she whispered, barely above the din of inebriation.  "A-are you well?" 

"What do you care?" he snapped. 

She flinched and then seemed to steal her resolve, standing straighter so she had to look down her broken nose at him, sucking at her horse teeth.  "Of course I care. You may be angry at me but nothing has changed.  I've kept your secret and I'm the only one who can know ho-how you must be feeling." The courage left her as she blushed and glanced at their feet. 

"You've watched your former lover marry another?" he scoffed. 

"No.  I know what it's like to not be enough, though." She lifted to watch him then. "But you are enough." And returned to avoiding his glare. "Ser Jaime." 

"I don't need your pity, wench. Cersei can do as she pleases, like always, and I'd rather her be gone than have to see her every day," he watched as she sighed in annoyance, a response he had often sought to elicit in her, knowing he sounded just as obstinate and childish as she sometimes. "Just like I would you." 

Brienne snapped her head at that and took a brave step forward to speak more softly, despite her tone dripping in vinegar. "You will have your wish for both of us soon.  My brother will be here before the new moon and you will never have to see me again." She did not even pause for his reaction before she spun around, calling, "Good night, ser" over her broad shoulder. 

Gone? Forever? And what would Brienne of Tarth do back home? She was made to be a fighter, not a lady.  She would hate it. Meanwhile, her brother would enjoy the fruits of years of her struggles.  And what kind of man will he be? Jaime could not imagine he could be any better than Brienne. No one could.

 

 

The new moon drew nearer without Jaime seeing much of Brienne.  Cersei left for the Rock with her new husband, so that he may look upon all that his gold and smiles had bought him, but she did not visit Jaime again.  As he stood behind Rhaegar, watching the queen tearfully kiss her brother and glare woefully at her new goodsister, while Tywin waited stoically in the wing, Jaime feeling the satisfaction roll off of his tall frame, Cersei gave him a final withering glance.  It held the promise of years more of her new distaste for the man he had become, plotting to make him regret his denial of her.  But, even though a part of him had thought he could endure cold sheets if Galladon would warm him with humor and sparring, he would still not give in to a life in the shadows, knowing Cersei would never find him worthy enough to forsake her title and politicking.  That would keep him company now, along with the loneliness. 

Brienne had been present as well, lurking in the awnings, frowning at those mounting, looking from them to him. She had not sought him out after. And Jaime could not blame her, since the last time she had tried to comfort him, he had snapped his teeth at her in warning. 

So, it was with some surprise that Addam found him, looking concerned, and the first word out of his mouth was "Galladon". It took Jaime a moment to comprehend the name.  He hardly spoke it these days and in his mind had been firmly planted Brienne. All of his confusion caused him to miss the rest of what Addam was telling him. 

"What?" 

"Galladon," Addam explained again. "He fell off his horse when training.  The maester says it could be broken." 

Brienne was an excellent rider. How could she have unhorsed herself when few else had? "What could be broken?" 

"His leg, Jaime.  Have you heard nothing I said?" 

"His leg." Brienne's brother would be coming soon.  He had hurt himself as a child, but recently something had happened for them to be able to switch. Galladon must be close to recovering. But not enough to trade an able bodied man with a crippled one. "That fucking foolish wench." 

Jaime turned to stalk to the maester's chambers, Addam calling after him.  "Wench? Is this about Galladon's girl?" 

But he ignored him, increasing his paces, trying to catch up to his hammering heart.  He did not know if the coil in his chest was a knot of anger or a stone of worry, but either way he would berate Brienne for not having learned one thing from all of her time in the city.  No one would thank her for putting herself in danger, not even her beloved family. 

He slapped open the door to the healing rooms, startling Samwell Tarly, squire turned novice of the Citadel at Rhaegar's request, and Brienne, who was sitting on a cot with one leg of her breeches cut away to reveal bruised and bleeding flesh. 

"Ser Jaime," Tarly warily greeted. He seemed to have forgotten the ointment and cloth in his hands, hovering over a gash in Brienne's ankle. 

"Get out," Jaime snarled. 

"But, Ser Galladon-" 

"Will be ready for treatment in a moment," he replied.  "This won't take long." 

Tarly had the nerve to look to Brienne, who nodded slightly.  With a sigh, he placed down his items and swept from the room in a rustle of robes, avoiding looking at Jaime.  At least he had the forethought to firmly shut the door behind him. 

"Jaime-" There was that tone, that warning that edged towards irritation like a finely honed blade, ready to teeter into amusement or anger.  Even with her slouched on a small cot, which looked ready to snap under her weight, large limb jutting out, purple and red and swollen, she was tense with strength. 

“What in the seven hells do you think you’re doing?” he interrupted, eyeing her leg while he paced off the simmering over of his fury. 

“I fell,” she sighed. 

“How can you be such a miserable liar, wench? It’s insulting I believed you so long.” 

She looked honestly apologetic about that. “I-I don’t know what you mean.” 

He finally tore his gaze from the wreck she had made of herself, seeing the pain flash in her eyes as she shifted under his stare. “Now you’re insulting yourself.” He flicked back to looking at her leg. “More.” It seemed to be too much for her, as Brienne tossed a thin blanket over her foot, hiding her idiocy, though he was sure the scratchy fabric was rubbing into the deep scratches from where she must have slid through the stones and dirt.  “Is it broken?” 

That earned him a slow blink and a slackening of her jaw.  She seemed surprised by his concern and he had to admit to himself that he was just as shocked. But he needed to know how far she had gone.  

“No,” she murmured. 

The pause was too long.  Jaime stormed towards her, making her lean back against the wall while he took advantage of their height difference and loomed over her. “Did you try?” 

“Galladon is still struggling to walk,” Brienne said, shoulders slumping.  “How would he explain if one day I was in the practice field and the next he is having trouble getting down the stairs?” 

“Did your father tell you to do this?” 

“No!” Brienne vehemently replied. 

Jaime sighed, dropping his head to his chest. Galladon had rarely spoken of his family.  For a moment, Jaime wondered if they were just as twisted as his own. But he could not feel relief when he knew that she had made this decision by herself.  “You could have died.” 

“I rolled away from the horse,” she defended. 

Snorting at her, he straightened and backed away. “Well, you’ve done it, wench. You can pretend a break and be recuperating for moons, giving your brother the time to fully heal while he enjoys being a knight in King’s Landing.” 

“That was the intention,” she sniffed. 

“And now what’s the plan?” 

Brienne toyed with her fingertips, like she was thumbing a piece of parchment.  “Galladon will be here in a few days.  But I can’t make it to the shore to meet him, not like this.  And he’ll have just as much trouble getting back into the keep.” 

“And what does that matter to…” Jaime paused and then laughed.  “No.” 

“Jaime,” she pleaded.  “I wouldn’t ask, but-“ 

“But you didn’t think this all through, did you?” 

Perhaps she did not know how open and tender her gaze could be, but Jaime was lured all the same by the way she peered up at him, hating how he felt himself thaw.   “You want me gone,” she whispered.  “Help me leave.” 

If she leaves, I’ll be free of her.  One sister and one squire less.  “Fine.”

Chapter Text

The night that Galladon was to arrive, Jaime found himself supporting Brienne as she hobbled down the steps of the Maiden Vault. Her saddlebag was slung over his shoulder, surprisingly light for it supposedly being filled with all she would want for leaving the city.  The injured leg was tightly bandaged and she had loosely tied her boot so that it would not fall off but did not add pressure.  As it was, she could hardly put her weight on it, wincing and hissing softly each time she tried.  And she attempted it every other pace, rather than leaning on Jaime more than she had to. Still, he wrapped his arm securely about her waist, feeling the slight dip right above her hip, where his hand fit snuggly.  Her warm palm was resting on his shoulder, nearly pressing him into the ground whenever she used him as a crutch, avoiding settling her side on him, as would have been easier for them both, for Jaime to support her.  Their fight to avoid touch caused their descent to be long and arduous, but no matter how much they struggled, Brienne ended up nearly fully enveloped in his arms as he practically carried her down, trying not to think about her breast brushing against his torso. 

They moved silently, not needing words to communicate, working together effortlessly when they gave up the pretense of keeping away from each other.  Thus, the journey through the halls went more smoothly, despite the occasional duck into alcoves to avoid anyone stopping them.  A smart man would wonder what two people, one crippled, would be going with a single pack, late enough that most of the keep was sleeping, save the guards and the drunks.  Jaime did not ask how Galladon was making it to the stony steps that dipped into Blackwater Bay, just outside the city.  As Kingsguard, he hoped it was the friendly banners on the Tarth ship that let them slip unmolested towards King's Landing.  But it could just as well be the poorly bought skills of the City Watch. 

Regardless, they managed to hobble down the slick stairs that led to dark churning waters, torches from the keep and the stars above silhouetting a small boat being rowed by two men strapped with swords. Another sat in the middle, light curls glistening in the wan light, face turned up expectantly so that Jaime could make out high cheekbones and a square jaw with a large nose. Beside him, Brienne sucked in her breath, fingers digging into Jaime's tunic as her sapphire eyes shimmered and cast their own glow. 

A line was tossed and Jaime caught it, deftly tying it to the rail while one of the men, who he could now see was dressed in Tarth colors, scrambled and slipped from the craft, steadying it so the other could help who Jaime assumed was Galladon, up the stones. Jaime instinctively bent to reach for the boy's hand, surprised at the strong grip and the pop of veins on his arm slipping under pale skin and over large muscles. But when Galladon stepped out, Jaime saw his frail legs, barely able to hold him up.  He'll have to pad his breeches to fill out to Brienne's shape

Jaime hauled him up, realizing that he and his sister were now clutching on to him.  Brienne had fists of the fabric at his back working through her hands. 

"Galladon," she breathed. 

"Brienne," he greeted. He did not have an overly deep voice and it sounded much like how Brienne had mimicked, which unnerved Jaime. But the two did not look so similar. Where she had straw, brittle hair, he had soft curls and while her features were now clearly faintly feminine, her brother's were sharp and hard.  But they had the same eyes, though Galladon's were shaded by thick brows and they were not so guileless and bright, and he had large teeth, with thinner lips. Not exactly handsome, but not so ugly either.  If he cut his hair and slicked it straight as Brienne had, perhaps they could pass for each other.  She had been smart not to let anyone too close to have noticed a difference. But Jaime wondered if even he had bothered to study Brienne enough to truly understand. 

"This is Ser Jaime Lannister," Brienne said. "The...friend I wrote about." 

Galladon raised his eyebrows at that. "Ser Jaime? I had not known my sister had made such remarkable connections.  It is a pleasure to meet you.  I am Galladon of Tarth." 

"You're Ser Galladon of Tarth now," Jaime grumbled, though he nodded to him when Brienne yanked on his tunic.  "We'd better go." 

Brienne released him to throw her arms around her brother, emitting a sob and squeezing once, which he returned. "Be well, sister," he murmured.  "Thank you for all that you've done.  I'll be sure to visit as soon as I'm able." 

"I will look forward to it," she replied, swiping at her cheek as she released him. 

She looked up at Jaime, then, shyly offering him a smile he could see even in the dark.  "I am forever in your debt, Ser Jaime." 

"You know I can keep a secret," he stiffly replied. 

"And so can I.  But I was referring to your years of friendship. To Galladon." 

"Ah, to Galladon." Jaime spared a glance at the boy watching them.  "There is no debt, wench.  Good luck." 

He turned to grab Galladon under his arms, trying not to think he held Brienne's brother differently than he had cradled her, and pulled them both up the stairs. 

"Good luck," she whispered to their backs, a caress like a soft breeze that left chills on Jaime's spine and raised his flesh. 

When they made it to the dry path that would lead them into the city, Jaime spared a glance behind him, feigning to be shifting Galladon, but she was already lost in the night. 

“Where are my chambers?” Galladon asked, pulling Jaime forward again. 

“In the Maidenvault,” he replied. When the boy just blinked at him, he sighed.  “You’ll see. Did Brienne tell you anything?” 

“Father was worried about giving away too much information in ravens.” 

Galladon could walk, that much was clear, but it was tentative and unsure, toes catching and sliding occasionally. His hold on Jaime’s shoulders was solid, though, nearly taking all of his weight on his upper body while he dragged the rest of himself along.  Jaime imagined that he had strengthened what part of him was not crippled, kept himself busy while he had waited in bed.  Let Brienne build him up here. Perhaps that thought was not fair. Their father had been the one to send her, to keep her in an unknown city, while he held the dearer child close. Jaime knew he had been in both Brienne and Galladon’s places at some point in his life. 

“Don’t expect me to be your confidant,” Jaime huffed. “Brienne’s deception was a betrayal and I want nothing to do with any Galladon.  But I’ll say this, she made you a knight.  You will have companions, few women, and a reputation.  Since you’re her brother, I imagine you will be able to make sure no one suspects a change.” 

“I haven’t seen Brienne since we were children,” Galladon protested. 

“Not my problem.  This was your brilliant idea.” 

The boy eyed him, lip quirking. “It doesn’t seem Brienne has been successful at making friends.  She was never good at being personable.” 

“And you are?” 

“Stuck in a bed for as long as I have, there’s few people around to be amiable with.  But I don’t think I’ll have any issues.” Galladon squinted, looking at the long hall that marked their destination.  “It looks bigger than in the plans Father showed me.” 

“So, Lord Selwyn prepared you.” Whether he had needed the information or not, Galladon had attempted to determine how much he could extract from Jaime. 

“Sure,” he shrugged, that silly grin still on his face. “I probably know more about this place and everyone in it than you.” 

But you haven’t met Tyrion.  “Maybe. But if you don’t keep your head down and stay out of my way, no knowledge will help you.” 

“She must be unpleasant indeed,” Galladon grumbled.   

“Your sister isn’t so awful,” Jaime found himself saying.  “She’s….difficult…and quiet.” 

Galladon smiled at that, something easy and bright, not like the rare, slowly crawling things that bloomed on his sister’s face. “Then, she is not so changed. She was Ser Goodwin’s best student, even if she was a little girl hiding behind a tree, learning stances with sticks. And she was always ruining the dresses Septa Roelle had made for her.” He snorted as he lost himself in memories it seemed he had not touched in a long while.  “She would have to sew up the tears and I could see her stitches from a distance before I could make out her face, not that it stopped her from making more rips.  She was not skilled at being a lady.” 

That sounded like Brienne.  “Well, she seems adept at being a knight, though she hasn’t had much need for any abilities as a woman.” 

“She’ll need them now,” Galladon sighed. 

Jaime thought about his own sister, imaging Lord Selwyn to be preoccupied with finding a groom just as obsessively as Tywin had been. But where Cersei had found herself her desired husband, the wench would be at the mercy to whatever poor lord that was desperate and impoverished enough to take on a young and ugly maiden who would only inherit a small island if her brother were to die or did not produce his own heir.  She had nothing to offer a man.  And yet, that thought felt false to Jaime, though he could find no quality in her that would attract a decent suitor.  “Hopefully she is just as good at being a lady as she was a man.”

Chapter Text

For the following days after Jaime had dumped Galladon in his new rooms, he listened for news of storms or any sunken ships, carried through in his nightmares of lightning and hungry waves. When he heard nothing, his sleep settling enough that he was not so haggard and vicious during the day, he assumed Brienne’s ship must have made it to Tarth safely. He had not seen her brother to ask, as the boy was not strong enough to survive the practice field or mounting a horse.  It was for the best, anyway. Galladon was not Brienne, but the flash of pale hair and tall, muscled chest was still a drop in Jaime’s gut as he realized it was no longer the Galladon that he had known roaming the halls of the keep. 

Still, Jaime needed confirmation that Brienne was home. So, he found himself following the familiar path to the Maidenvault, surprised to run into a pair of tittering, whispering girls, skirts and smiles swishing about as they left the chambers that Jaime was heading to.  Frowning, he stuck his head in the door, at least relieved to see that there was another one of the novices with Galladon and he had not been alone with two serving maids. 

“Ser Jaime,” the boy greeted from where he was tentatively circling the room, thin cane keeping him upright. “Have you come to see my progress?” 

“Ser Galladon is still very weak,” the novice explained, without being asked.  “I fear his injuries have left him severely wounded, more than we had thought at first.  He may never fight or ride like he used to.” 

“But I will fight and ride,” Galladon beamed.  “The maesters here are very knowledgeable.” 

More so than the ones Tarth could afford, Jaime supposed.  “Good to hear, boy,” he muttered indifferently, glancing around the room while the tap of the stick echoed with the shuffle of the novice’s feet.   “What would your father say if he knew you were wasting your time on common wenches?” 

The movement stopped, but Jaime did not bother turning to them.  He was looking about, noting the mess of clothing and spray of books.  There were no more reverent collections of tomes, reams of parchment littered on the desk, or the soft blanket that had been folded neatly on the chair by the fire.  It was no longer Brienne’s room.  When he finally turned to see Galladon nodding to the novice to leave them alone, he remembered why. 

“I thought you were not planning on concerning yourself with me,” Galladon said as the door shut. 

“I had never thought to see Galladon of Tarth entertaining girls in his chambers,” Jaime snapped. 

“Brienne cares for me, but I don’t think she would have gone so far as that.” The boy chuckled, making Jaime scowl. “I hear I had a love back at home that kept me from…exploring.” 

“I imagine Brienne never thought you would be curious.” He spat the word out. “Shouldn’t you be working on your duty and finding a suitable and powerful lady?” 

Galladon’s smile grew and he shrugged, beginning to hobble around the room again.  “I’ve little experience with ladies.  I need time to practice my charms on the lovely handmaids that are in this keep.” 

“Charm will do you little, boy,” Jaime grunted. 

“Maybe for someone with the name Lannister or Stark or Dayne.  But what father would want to give his daughter a tiny, useless island?” 

He was right.  Jaime had hated it just as much when Brienne had constantly proven herself right.  “You’re still in a better position than your second born sister.” 

At least Galladon looked a bit abashed at that. “Is she why you came to see me?” 

“Wanted to make sure she made it home, I guess,” Jaime grumbled. 

“Father let me know she had.” The boy eyed him. It was hardly the calculating, cutting stare that Brienne would slice him through with.  Everyone must have treated Galladon fairly, respectfully, as would befit the servants of his household, if Lord Selwyn was a kind and just master. He would have little need to delve too deeply in search of a hidden threat.  Maybe, given a life at home, dependent and tucked away, Galladon had never even learned to understand the many layers of humanity, what horrors he must face when all the superficial ones are peeled back to expose the blackened, rotting center.  “Is that all?” 

Let him fall prey to it on his own, just as they left his sister to do. “Yes.  I suppose it is.”

 

  

But it was not the end of it. Life in Kings Landing ebbed and flowed around Jaime, a constant drone like laying in a summer field and letting the hum of bees flitting between flowers lull him to sleep. He followed the king. He visited Tyrion, a reminder of how laughter had once come easy to him.  He suffered through meals with his father, another reminder, but this time of how he still managed to tuck his mind away and take the assault of the Lord Hand, be it in veiled threats or exposed vitriol for all that the golden son had been naught but a disappointment.  He sparred, especially when he felt boredom knotting his muscles and grinding his teeth and he began dreaming of the scream of war.  And he took rides outside of the city, hardly noting how the stench and mire of the streets suddenly stopped to become lush plains sliced with a lazily winding road, the bustle of begging and laboring hushed to the sound of hooves and wheels over pebbles and dirt. 

As for Galladon, he had begun to venture out to the practice field.  He would be in the hall for supper, laughing with the other young men.  And recently Jaime had found him with Kyran Waynwood on his arm. None had seemed to question him about his slow recovery or suddenly open personality.  The boy could be mulish and reclusive, storming off when his exercises did not go as he hoped, but he would appear later, jovial and all seemed forgotten.  There was nothing unsettling about the lad that Jaime could find.  But whatever had drawn him to Brienne when she was Galladon was lost to him with her brother.  He was just like all the other new knights that strutted about the keep.  Maybe he was quieter, less boastful, greatly respectful and eager. Yet none of it compelled Jaime to befriend him.  He could not hate him either, though, no matter how he tried. 

So, when the boy sought him out, he was not entirely surprised, at first.  Until he learned why. 

"Ser Jaime," the boy called, stepping from the brilliant sunlit garden, practice sword swinging loosely from his hand. He had let his hair grow back and curl again and it was now matted to his wide forehead.  Jaime realized that with his pale skin flushed he had a light sprinkling of freckles across his nose and above his brows, although they were nothing like the splatters that covered his sister’s skin. "May we speak?" 

"I suppose," Jaime said, though he did not slow his gait. 

Galladon slipped into step with him, hardly needing to work to keep up with Jaime's hurried strides.  "I was hoping you could tell me about Lord Longthorpe." 

"Longthorpe?" Jaime searched his memory, knowing Tyrion would have been a much better source.  "Some old man from the Vale, I think. He had to have a sellsword represent him for Cersei's tourney." 

"He entered for your sister's hand?" Galladon looked nervous and his shoulders slumped. 

"Yes.  He's eager for a new house and a bit more coin, I hear." 

"More like an island and sapphires," the boy sighed.  He stopped, working through something as his face fought a scowl and he hid it by looking down at his boots kicking up cracks in the stone. 

"What is this interest in Longthorpe?" Jaime asked. 

Galladon looked up in dismay. "Apparently he is to be my goodbrother." 

"What?" Jaime roared, startling a pair of elderly ladies strolling by.  He stepped forward, lowering his voice, though that only turned it into a harsh growl. "Tell me you have other siblings." 

"Father sent me a letter informing me of the...good news." 

"Has he seen Brienne?" No matter how aged the man was, he could not want a bride as unattractive as the wench.

Galladon nodded.  "He has been...courting her." 

"Gods, how must that look," Jaime chuckled darkly, though the lad did not join him.  "Well, I doubt the man will live long for you to enjoy having a goodbrother." 

"Is that all?" Galladon snapped, jerking his head up and glaring at Jaime with sparking blue eyes. "That is all you have to say?" 

"Careful, boy." Jaime took another step towards him.  "What are you insinuating?" 

"Brienne was your friend, whatever you want to say.  And she's my sister, who gave up everything to play this farce.  We can't let her be shackled and bedded to some vile old man." 

Bedded. Jaime fought off the churning image of Brienne rigid and cringing underneath a frail, wrinkled body that could barely be held above her, bony elbows shaking through shallow, weak thrusts as she screwed her eyes shut and kept back her tears.  A woman’s duty.  There were plenty of ladies that were forced to serve and Brienne, with her low stature and her appearance, was always doomed to that fate.  

Yet, that thought which filled him with a burning rage and twitching muscles, fingers curling into tight fists, was suddenly replaced with her head thrown back in pleasure, large mouth slack as heavy breaths puffed from her.  Instead of twisting away in the sheets, she was wrapped around her lord husband, urging and clawing and true.  Then, the man dipped down to lick at the sweat below her ear and there was Jaime, his golden skin melting into the pale sand of her own as he slid his slick body up and down. That would be no duty. 

Galladon was continuing.  "She's denied suitors before.  But she's older now and as long as this Lord Longthorpe does not abuse her, she will do her responsibility.  Marry and bear children and be a widow before she is truly old enough." 

“Children,” Jaime mumbled, scrubbing a hand through his beard, the stubble that would leave Brienne’s skin red and rashed wherever he rubbed against her.  A pride of little cubs with dazzling blue eyes. 

“Gods, what if he wants to take her back to the Vale? She will be away from home, stuck in the cold, on her own.” 

That would not do.  She belonged on Tarth, big toes digging into warm, wet sand as lazy waves reached up to curl around her thick ankles, splashing and soaking her breeches as she turned to him with a laugh on her lips and buried in her gaze, short hair a halo around her head.  That was something Jaime would not mind dreaming about.  “Seven fucking hells.” 

“Ser Jaime?” Galladon said.  “What are we to do?” 

Jaime stared at him.  “We? This is Brienne’s choice, just as it was to lie to me for years.” 

“She was protecting-“ 

“You.” 

The boy blinked, but Jaime was not wrong. That did not stop Galladon from scowling at him once he recovered.  “Yes. And she’s still putting her family first, before what she wants. Who she wants.  Whether you come with me or not, I’m going home to see what I can do for her.” 

“Why?” he scoffed.  “If it’s not Longthorpe, your father will find someone else to take his place.” 

“Maybe.  But the least I can do is try my best to make sure that I gain her some time to find her own husband.” 

Gods, her own husband. The boy was right. If it was not Longthorpe, it would be another. And then another. And none would be right for the wench. None would treat her as an equal, find her merit as a voice to help in ruling her home, enjoy filling her out with babes, if, and only if, that was also what she wanted.  None would love her.  Not like he could. 

Jaime knew what he had to do. He was not entirely pleased about it, though.  “When are you leaving?”

Chapter Text

Tarth was just as she had remembered, just as she had dreamed.  The dark, rolling waters of the open sea brightened and cleared as her island had risen over the horizon, melting into the crystalline blues that she had always known, just as sure as her own heartbeats. The ship sailed past the high cliffs, casting a shadow over the mast and foaming the waves that stretched and crashed against them.  A small, calm bay sliced into the descending rocks, where a dock had long been erected and repaired. High above, led by steps carved into the hill, dotted with paths leading to small homes and farms, was Evenfall Hall. 

Brienne had made the long climb alone, sweat carving tracks down her dirty, salty neck, and she had been greeted by a lone figure, though it was the one she had been hoping to see.  While her home remained unchanged, Ser Goodwin was now a map of years they had spent apart, tanned and wrinkled and gray. But he was still solid, standing with stiff shoulders and a smile that softened the hard lines of his stern face. His words, though, had been filled with tired resignation and ragged regret, apologies spilling from his mouth as he took her in, calloused hands patting the muscles on her arm and inspecting her own rough palms.  I should have spoken against your father. I should have prepared you. Gone with you. Written to you. You were so young. You must have been so frightened. 

She had tried to soothe away his worries. She must have been prepared enough, she explained, since she had convinced everyone for years that she was Galldon.  It was her duty, she stressed, just as it had been his to stay with his lord’s son, the first born. Galladon had needed to be educated in all manners, even while bedridden, even when he could not hold a sword. Ser Goodwin’s place had been home, with her brother, while Brienne’s had been on her own, without anyone else that could have been questioned about her.  They had both known this, just as much as they had both needed to hear it then. 

Yet, Ser Goodwin had not accompanied Galladon when they had switched places.  And he would not be making the trip to King’s Landing either.  He may not have survived it.  And there was something in his dark eyes that had made Brienne wonder if he had not also been determined to see her.  His responsibility done to Galladon, perhaps now he could be the friend that he seemed to have wanted to be to Brienne. 

The next few days that she spent on Tarth proved how very valuable Ser Goodwin’s presence was.  Her father had been pleased and proud that she had succeeded in her task and that Galladon seemed to be settling seamlessly in her spot. But, on the second day of her arrival, after she had forgotten to wait for her handmaid and had dressed, as she had grown used to, in breeches and a tunic, Lord Selwyn had been full of frowns and concerned glances.  Dressing in a gown that was too tight across her broad chest and thick arms, which was short enough to expose too much of her pale ankles, had not lightened his mood and since, she often caught him watching her over his cup during meals. When she had tried to question him on his distaste of her, he would always scoff at the notion, pat her head and kiss her cheek and send her off to renew her lessons on being a lady. At least he did not punish her with Septa Roelle anymore, her replacement being perplexed, rather than angry, at Brienne’s misfortune and stubbornness. 

However exhausting and frustrating her days were, returning to a life as a sheltered and ugly maiden, they were not what kept her restless and near manic.  It was her nights. While she was in King’s Landing, trapped behind walls and the stench of bodies close to strangling her breath, her dreams often returned back home, wishing for the freedom of the mountains and forest and shores of an island that could feel all her own. But now that she was here and she was being kept safe within Evenfall for the time, her fantasies were of a new gold that was her sunshine, her brilliant shores, a white that replaced the crest of her seas, the cap of her mountains, and a green that had become her lush valleys.  She would wake, her desperate heart convincing her for a moment that she was back in the city, that the face she longed for was just some steps away.  But, then, she recalled she was home.  She was Brienne.  She was alone. 

A few times, she had tried to pen him a letter. Some were simple, searching words, an attempt to make that connection that they had shared for so long. She wanted to read his jests, see his hurried, scribbled hand, to feel him there, in that cold and dusty room that had belonged to a little girl and where a grown woman uncomfortably sat at a chair and desk that had always been too small for her. But others were open gashes in her chest, nearly begging for what was not hers, had never been hers, and could never be.  Forgiveness. Touches.  Dark murmurs.  Those letters went into the flames before even the ink had dried on them, though her tears she left crusted to her ruddy cheeks. 

She had missed Jaime.  She knew that she would.  He had confided in her, believed in her.  He had thought me Galladon when he did that, though.  He had also been cruel to her, as well, she tried to remind herself.  That he had been as Galladon and as me, at least. Still, Jaime had been the one that had been hers, that she had allowed herself to be Brienne around and even when he had been spitting his anger at her betrayal, she had continued to think of him as one of the few that had accepted her.  As her friend.  Of course she missed him and of course she hated how she had left. 

But that was not all of it.  Over the years, Brienne had known she was not immune to the charms and appearance of Jaime Lannister.  She had accepted that once she had come to know him that he would be a constant course in her blood, a need like breathing, just as easy, which could be just as painful.  Yet she had managed to put it all behind glass, something she could safely peer at and admire, but never touch.  Jaime could never love Galladon of Tarth, not any more than he would even know that Brienne existed. 

That had all shattered when he had discovered her secret, her only lie to him, the one that bled into her other words, turning them all into falsehoods.  But he had seen her.  Gods, how he had seen her.  Nevertheless, her name rolling off his sly tongue and coating his perfect mouth, catching in his beard, was her undoing. It fed dreams that she had wished to bury deep within the part of her that still carried hope. Now, he could replace every time they had spoken, japed, shared with her

Would it make any difference, if he had been with me, rather than Galladon? 

But he had been angry, so wrathful, when he learned, stumbled upon, the truth.  Brienne knew that he would not forgive her.  And she doubted he would ever think back on their years together with anything but malice.  She, however, would cherish them.  All she needed was enough time away to build back that cage with which her memories could not haunt her anymore, the ghost of his touch and his voice the only companions she had, craving the man as the only one she wanted. 

That need to forget Jaime in order to continue on was not aided by the unpleasant and unwelcome and unknown arrival of a potential suitor.  When Lord Longthorpe was announced, Brienne cursed herself for not realizing sooner what her father’s grimaces meant for her, since they had formed into this same result before. This time, though, she did not think that she could shirk from her duties. 

Even after seeing Brienne, clothed at least in a better fitting dress but still looking like a beast in silks, the old man that was clutching the arm of a calculating young septa, to keep from teetering, did not even blink at her face.  Brienne thought him blind for a moment, but then his gaze slipped past her to ogle the high, cool and shaded ceiling decorated with bright tiles and split open at the top to let in the sunlight.  With a sigh, he leered at the view through the tall windows, framed in gauzy curtains, where the blue water lapping against the white shore could be seen far below, past the juts in the green hill, where the farms had been erected, and the slow slide into glistening rocks, wet with sea spray.  His glazed and opaque eyes soaked in every part of Evenfall and the lands beyond while he lecherously licked his dry and cracked lips, as if he could taste his luxurious final years basking in warmth and paradise. Lord Selwyn had finally found the man that coveted Tarth more than he did a powerful seat or a pretty wife. 

Of course, Brienne’s father had tried this before. But she was shocked to find Lord Longthorpe to be forgiving of her appearance and rather kind, in his own way. 

“I’ll not stop you from whatever you fancy to amuse yourself with,” he whispered like a reverent secret.  “No men besides me in your bed, and only then to have children, and keep the peace and the cleanliness of our hall is what I demand.” 

“I won’t wear gowns,” Brienne stubbornly protested. “I will ride and spar and go where I please.” 

That only made the man chuckle and pat her large hand with his bony fingertips, like he would a favored child. “As long as you leave me with the servants and not slip a blade across my throat, I care naught what you do.” 

This, she realized, was just another kind of torture, this dismissal.  She would spend the rest of her life without love, without even having a lord husband sharing her bed, without receiving the slightest attention.  Perhaps she was indeed just the girl that Lord Longthorpe had hoped for, someone that would follow his few wishes and then leave him to the riches of her home, neither desiring for the treasures of their marriage. But he was not the man that Brienne wanted.  Before she had gone to King’s Landing, she would have most likely happily agreed to the arrangement. To be granted her freedom was the best that she could hope for.  If only she had not tasted something sweet in those years away from home that did not belong to her. 

That changed little, though.  Brienne had simply smiled at her soon to be lord husband and bowed in acquiescence, praying to the Mother and the Maiden that she would wake one morning stricken of the memory of being Galladon of Tarth, for the sake of the rest of her long life. 

But it seemed the Gods were not for her favor, since Ser Goodwin visited her sitting on the steps before Evenfall, honing her sword, with news of her brother’s departure from King’s Landing. 

“Why would he return home so soon after leaving?” she frowned. 

“I, um-“ her mentor coughed into his fist, tall form looming over her, blocking out the sun.  “I told him of your betrothal.” 

“Oh.” It was all the response she could gather as surprise and melancholy swept over her.  “I do not think I want Galladon here to see this.” 

“He’s not coming to celebrate, my lady. I believe he’s coming to try to stop it.” 

Brienne snorted at that.  “He shouldn’t.  He knows just as well as I that this must be done.  Have we both not been bound to our duties all this time? He needs to concern himself only with fulfilling his own.” 

“Perhaps,” Ser Goodwin conceded. “But I’m sure he would not let you see this through alone.” 

She gave a wavering smile, hoping that the one mirrored in the gruff man’s face was more genuine, reaching out to unravel his clenched hand.  “I’m not alone.” For now.  Though her family would watch her bind herself and their house to another, the rest of her path would always and only be for her to make. Her fate was that no matter how many people surrounded her, it would just be Brienne inside the hollowed shell of her heart. 

Still, there had been little time with Galladon on the steps of the city and she drew some happiness at the prospect of being home with him again, eager to see the progress in his walking that she had heard of from her father and Ser Goodwin.  But while she had been keen to meet him from the ship, Lord Selwyn demanded that she not leave her ailing betrothed, who was loathe to make the long and perilous journey down.  So, she watched from one of the balconies, straining her eyes to make out the figures far below. 

There had been a strong eastern breeze speeding the ship’s voyage, which was now snapping and pulling at the sails of the anchored boat, curling up the side of the cliff to blow warm, salty air across her face, pushing away the strands of her hair that had wrestled out of her handmaid’s poor attempt at a fashionable Pentoshi plait.  Already she was working a rip into the sleeve of her dress as she worried the tender seams with her jagged fingernails and despite the cooling wind, she could feel sweat running from her hairline to trail down her wide chest and dip into the light fabric of her bodice, darkening the dusty blue color of her newest dress. 

Strangely, as she looked on, she saw one of those that had accompanied Lord Selwyn begin to hurriedly move back up the steps to Evenfall, while the rest of the retinue stopped to converse with Galladon and his party.  Brienne thought it odd that he had already gathered enough companions to escort him, even more peculiar that they seemed clad in billowing crimson cloaks, dotted with gold in the middle. But she could see little from her perch, save that they were finally making their way to the castle. So, she left to meet the man that had gone ahead, curiosity brimming inside of her, washing away the miserable and hopeless days she had recently experienced. 

“Brienne!” came Ser Goodwin’s familiar and winded voice.  “Lady Brienne!” 

He burst through the large doors leading to the grand entryway, immediately doubling over to clutch his knees and take gulps of air.  Brienne picked up her cumbersome skirts, revealing the boots she had hoped to hide, to hurry to his side and place a concerned palm on his sweat soaked tunic. 

“Is everything well, ser?” she asked. 

“I-I do not know,” he laughed, looking up at her from his bent position, face cracked with a confused smile. “Galladon has come, but he has also brought another.” 

She frowned, glancing behind him in hopes that she saw her family.  But they must have still been ascending the stairs that her mentor had sprinted up. “Another what?” 

“Suitor!” he gleefully exclaimed. 

Brienne blinked.  And then foolishly scanned the foyer again in the hopes that Galladon would appear to better explain.  Another suitor. What did that matter? No man would truly want her.  If there was another interested party, their house was likely poor, the husband old or fat or hateful or mad, and the prize was not her hand.  Lord Longthorpe was not the worst that Tarth and a girl like her could attract. She did not want to see what else was out there. 

“I don’t want or need another suitor,” she protested. “I have already agreed to marry.” 

He snorted and then turned his head behind him. “Tell me that after you meet this one.”      

Brienne followed his gaze to the courtyard before the doors, catching sight of the party just as her brother’s familiar light curls bobbed up the steps.  Next came his warm smile, mouth partly opened as he panted from the excursion. He seemed proud of himself, a look she had known fondly when they were children and he was a gleam in their father’s eye, but now she recognized the danger in it when she was involved. And just as she searched his face to try to determine what trouble he had gotten them both into, she caught sight of the man that was helping her brother climb home.  Then, her heart juddered and slid to a firm halt. 

“Jaime.” The name slipped from her lips before she could swallow it back down. 

Chapter Text

She realized she could not even open her throat to choke back the saliva pooling under her tongue as she fought for breath.  The image of him, a new fantasy that she had not worked over so many times in her mind, was a fist in her chest, squeezing out her life and demanding she release it in painful gasps.  And Gods, what a vision he was. It had actually taken a moment for her to even recognize him, and it was not just from the shock and impossibility of ever seeing him again, especially in her castle, smiling. He had always worn either his Kingsguard armor or a simple tunic and breeches.  But now, he was bathed in Lannister colors and riches, clothed in a scarlet silk undershirt and, over it, a dark red leather jacket cut tightly to his body, thick scrolls of amber stitching running along his cuffs and across the belts.  At his throat was a clasp of a golden lion, ruby eyes gleaming, which pinned a crimson cloak to his back.  He had also trimmed his beard and attempted to brush back his long hair.  He did not look the part of a knight today, but of a lord.  This was how he came to her after all the time apart. It left her even more confused than his mere presence on her island did. 

“Brienne.” She saw her name form on Jaime’s lips, as he briefly looked up at her, green eyes glittering and soaking her in, before watching his steps. 

But it was not his voice that was calling her.  Galladon shouted above Jaime’s whisper. 

“Brienne.” And soon followed her father’s stern voice, guarded gaze studying her as he joined them in front of the hall.  “This is-“ 

“There’s no need for introductions, my lord,” Jaime interrupted, his dark rumble settling into the empty recesses of her chest.  “Perhaps you would like to discuss this more privately.” 

Lord Selwyn frowned, casting another furtive glance at his children.  “Yes.  Follow me, Ser Jaime.” 

Jaime had hardly looked at her, but as he swept past her and into her home, the scent of his sweat, his musk like a deep burning wood, and the tinge of salt and open air drew her hand out to wrap around his arm, hard muscles twitching beneath his clothing.  Her grip was not firm, but it was enough to stop him in an instant, pulling his eyes to her, bright emeralds now a dark impenetrable forest.  She shrank back to have him look so fully upon her, breathing freer only when he released her stare to rake his scrutiny down her long, large body. It caused a shudder, as if his warm fingers were trailing his regard, and she fought against the urge to sigh, uncaring that they were being watched and they both had their roles to play. 

He leaned in and she found herself doing the same, too frightened and intrigued to close her eyes like she wanted to.  “I’ll talk to you later, wench,” he murmured so low she felt it in her toes first. 

“Jaime, please tell me-“ 

“We’ve both got some matters to discuss.” He shook his head and nodded to where the Tarth party had disappeared.  “After.” 

Reluctantly, she let him go, but still he paused a moment to survey her, giving a teasing frown at her dress.  “I liked you better in breeches.” 

With that, he left, the retinue of Lannister men a red wake behind him, and then, distantly, Brienne heard the doors to her father’s solar slide closed, a familiar sound that never failed to send bolts of uncertainty through her stomach. Now, it nearly dropped her to her knees as she realized her heart was hammering and blood was beating a war cry in her ears.  She felt just as she did when she was sparring, a coiled up lightning bolt that would stretch and sizzle in a blink, leaving her tired and shivering and alive. 

“Brienne?” She turned to find Ser Goodwin and Galladon still standing in the courtyard with her. Her brother attempted a tentative smile and opened one of his arms in supplication.  “This was not how I thought this would go.” 

She could not help but laugh, though it came out too loud and harsh.  Kicking her skirts, she went to Galladon and hugged him tightly, pleased to find him not needing to support himself against her as he returned the embrace.  “And what, exactly, were you thinking?” 

Galladon sighed. “I couldn’t imagine you happily marrying some old man and Ser Jaime was the only one in King’s Landing that knew who you…were.” 

“By accident,” Brienne snapped as she began to pace, hoping it would burn off the last of her nerves. Jaime was here. And he had teased her like he used to do.  But that did not change how they had left matters.  “Jaime and Galladon may have been friends, but he and I were not.” Saying it aloud opened the wound once more. 

“I thought that was because there could be something more,” Galladon protested, causing her to stop and spin towards him.  “He came here with me, Brienne.  He’s willing to take Longthorpe’s place.” 

“I’ve kept his secrets.  He’s just fulfilling some ridiculous sense of debt, if he means anything with this.” Perhaps he wishes to return to his sister’s bed and I would be the perfect veil for them to hide behind.  Suddenly, Jaime’s arrival did not seem so encouraging. 

“You have known this man since you were a child,” Ser Goodwin spoke up. “Don’t you trust him?” 

Glancing at the shaded entry, dark and cool against the hot sunshine beating against the stones and soaking into her pale skin, Brienne shook her head. “I don’t know what to trust.” 

“Then, sit with me and talk until you do,” Galladon beseeched.  To stress his point, he sat down on the low wall that jutted out from the castle and kept the rolling grasses and tumbling bushes of the gardens beyond from spilling into the cleared courtyard and down the maintained steps.  Patting the space beside him, he grinned and Brienne recalled their childhood, heels kicking at the barrier as their feet did not reach the ground, while they waited for visitors to make the climb to Evenfall, eager and giggling as they tried to hide in the vegetation and steal glances of new faces. 

With a sigh, she gave in and plopped down beside her brother, yanking at her skirts so that she could give her knees room to splay out.  They sat for a moment, both watching her booted toes tap together impatiently, until Ser Goodwin joined them, groaning a bit as he sat. 

“Start from the beginning, Brienne,” he said. 

The sun was blessedly dipping behind the castle when Brienne was finished and Galladon had taken up his own story.  She learned he was recovering much quicker under the eyes of the maesters straight from the citadel.  And, it seemed, under the pretty and tittering gaze of a young lady that had caught his attention. The laughter bubbled up in her when she heard him excitedly tell her of his maiden and the friends he had made easier than she had in the years that she had been in his place. But, at least, her distance had allowed none to truly know her and so when Galladon sought out companions, there was no one that could compare the new Galladon with the old. Except Jaime. 

She looked back towards the entrance, hoping that the man of her thoughts would appear and empty his heart to her. 

“Ser Jaime did not seem to like me,” her brother murmured, soft voice trying to pry away her walls. 

“That is my fault,” she sighed. 

He chuckled. “Yes, but not in the way you may think. I’m inclined to believe he will always dislike me because I’m not anything like you.” 

“Of course you are,” she scoffed.  “We’re siblings.” 

“So are Lord Tyrion and Ser Jaime.” 

Brienne eyed him to see if there was an amused glint in his eye, but he only arched his brow challengingly.  “Are you comparing me to Lord Tyrion?” 

“I don’t know,” he grinned.  “He took a much greater interest in me than his brother did.” 

She blinked. Tyrion had been curious about her at first, but had long lost his curiosity when she could barely stumble out a sentence under his knowing green and black eyes.  Yet he had resumed sniffing around Galladon. Had Jaime told him? Could he have known? 

Before the fear of their secret pouring out into the streets of King’s Landing could manifest and root itself once again in her anxieties, a more pressing worry loomed from the entry.  Jaime strode out to the group lounging on the wall and Brienne could just make out her father and Lord Longthorpe veering off to move towards the great hall, the younger man bent low and nodding as he listened while the other appeared to be smiling and gesturing excitedly with his hands.  The Lannister retinue that had accompanied Jaime fanned out at the entrance, hidden in the shadows as they kept an eye on their knight while escaping the still brilliant setting sun. 

Standing, Brienne absently smoothed her skirts, though she knew he had already caught her unfeminine recline on the partition, perhaps even facing an unsightly view of her white calves, and she realized that even without the wrinkles in the stiff silk, she was still covered in rips and sweat.  But he did not take to studying her again, instead moving his gaze directly from her father and her betrothed to her two companions. She felt a tinge of dismissal at that, knowing he must still and forever be angry with her. 

"Lord Selwyn and I have come to an agreement," he said to Galladon before nodding to Ser Goodwin.  "He has granted me a supervised audience with my Lady Brienne." Flicking his gaze at her, he offered a smirk.  "Should she permit it." 

"You're awfully courteous," Galladon snorted.  "This must have worked to your favor." 

Jaime scowled at him and tossed his mane back.  "Off with you, boy.  Ser Goodwin won't mind being our escort." 

The glare that would have frightened anyone in King's Landing did little to Brienne's brother. He is so happy to be out of bed, it's made him think he is invincible. Thankfully, he heeded the words spat at him, only after he casually leaned in to kiss her cheek and patted Jaime on the shoulder. 

"Insufferable little monster," Jaime grumbled. 

It was a strange sensation to watch him sigh and snarl half-heartedly as he had to her many times before.  But there was not that glint of a burning ember in his eye, not the challenge and the hope that he would be matched, not the slow pleasurable slide down her spine at their sparing.  This was a glimpse of how Jaime and Galladon would have been, if her brother had not fallen, if she had not hidden in his skin, if she had not brought Jaime here.

Chapter Text

"Would you care to sit, Ser?" Brienne motioned to the wall, tucking her shaking hands back quickly into her body when she noticed them. 

"Gods, no," Jaime sighed. His tight shoulder slumped and he ran his calloused fingers through his hair, tussling his locks and making Brienne itch to feel the contrast of his rough hands on her skin and his silky hair under her palms. 

Shaking off the notion, she searched for something else to say, finding her mind as blank and thick as the wet hum of the air before a storm.  "Would you like to take a walk, see the island?" 

"Soon," he huffed.  Then he looked at her from the corner of his eye, doing another scan, before stepping closer. 

"A-are you hungry?" she stammered, tilting her head slightly to see if Ser Goodwin was watching. He had nearly given them his back. 

"Yes," Jaime hissed. "But not for food. I want answers and none of your awful formalities, wench." 

"Answers?" she blustered, turning her full attention to him again.  "You are the one that has arrived at my home.  I left you alone, just as you wanted." They were arguing. Again.  Brienne wondered if they could ever find a peace with their ghosts and their pain. 

He grunted.  "You have called me a fool before.  Perhaps you were right." 

I’m never right. And now I’m lost, so lost. "What are you doing here, Jaime?" she almost begged. 

He laughed mirthlessly, a deep thunderclap that send her back to the memories of him in white, shining in the sunlight pouring in to an empty throne room.  "Saving you, of course." 

"I don't need saving." The knights in her stories had always rescued the maiden.  But long ago, she had begun imagining herself the one in armor, not in skirts, and the notion of being stuck in that ill-fitting role made her prickle like an angry dog. 

"Yes, Lord Longthorpe is just the man that all ladies dream of." 

"That's...it's not," she fought for the words that she had tried to comfort herself with, now withering like dead things at her feet when she was confronted with the bright and fresh beauty of the man she longed for.  But how dare he pretend like she had any choice, any hope.  “He has promised me freedom to be myself and to be left alone. He may not even push children on me." 

Jaime made a face at that, like he was sucking on a foul lemon, and took another step into her space, crowding her with her confusion and concern.  But she refused to yield and retreat.  "And that's what you want, a husband who you never see, save for the few times he can harden to do his duty?" 

"It doesn't matter what I want," she snapped, surprised to find her voice rising in an overwhelming wave of rage that almost spilled from her lashes, collecting there in salty, burning tears. "This is what's best for my family. It's a better option than I could have hoped for myself.” She sniffed, refusing to give him the satisfaction of seeing the drops fall.  “And what do you care? You hate me." 

Something in Jaime cracked and instead of revealing the usual brilliant wrath he could match her with, he diminished. "I did…I should. But I would not be here if I do." 

"Then why are you here?" she asked again, just as desperately. 

"To save myself, I suppose," he whispered, feather soft. 

He looked vulnerable to her in that moment, for maybe the first time, giving her the courage to ask, "Are you really here to court me?" 

"No," he said, lifting his shoulders to be at height with her.  "I'm here to marry you." He waved his hands indifferently.  "If you want, that is." 

It was almost too much for her to take in. The entire day had been a heady rush that she could have easily drowned in, or woken up from.  But she skirted around the edges of the abyss that contained all her fears and fantasies at Jaime offering up what she truly desired. She started with something simple, a toe in the water.  "I'm already promised to Lord Longthorpe." 

"Who wanted Tarth so that he may end his days somewhere warmer than the Vale," Jaime provided.  "He's already been married and produced heirs.” He shrugged, feigning a casual air as if he was not aware of how the sight of him against her castle, the scent of him mixed with her ocean breeze, were not hard tugs in her gut that would never lessen.  “With Selwyn's permission, I offered him a place in Evenfall, fit with servants and comforts." 

"Oh." How easily her betrothed was bought. Casting her eyes at Jaime’s rich, dark boots, she found another safe path to move down.  She still could not let herself believe.  "You are in the Kingsguard." 

"Not anymore," he replied. "You recall long ago I told you that Rhaegar gave me a choice.  He allowed me to change my decision, so long as he didn't have to see my face much more." 

"You-you are now the heir to Casterly?" His clothing then made sense, but he was all the more unreachable to her as Lord of Casterly Rock than he was ever as Ser Jaime Lannister or the Kingslayer. Or just her Jaime. 

He attempted an apologetic smile, but it looked misplaced on his handsome face.  "Ah, well, no.  Cersei was given claim, should she find a suitable husband, which she did.  So she will be heir, as will her children." 

"Oh." 

"I'm simply a knight, Brienne." Amidst the fog of her thoughts, her heart still swelled at her name and his confession. She was just a maiden, under the tall frame and hideous face.  Perhaps if he was just a knight, to the rest of the world, at least, there could be a place for them.  To be what? Friends? "A Lannister still, of course, and with enough gold to buy your father and convince him that his second born may do well tied to my house, even if it is with only the second in line." 

"Only," she snorted at that. Jaime was far from ever being only, no matter how much she fooled herself.  He was, though, less than he had been.  It did not appear to bother him at all.  And it tugged at Brienne’s mouth, demanding she smile at the notion of only Ser Jaime Lannister. 

"Do you have any more inane questions, wench?" He seemed proud to have stalled her, though he had always enjoyed their disputes. 

"Yes," she huffed, just as determined to make him writhe inside as he had been doing to her, turning her world into something extraordinary and terrifying, when it had always been safe.  Just safe.  "Why?" He winced, clearly unhappy with the accusation she could not hide in her tone. "You may not hate me but you cannot love me.  I have no value to you or your house.  And my plight was not so dire that I was in danger of abuse.” She paused to collect her scattered thoughts. “And, for that matter, perhaps I would prefer Lord Longthorpe.  He'll not be long of this world, leaving me to return to how it was before. And he is too old to stray or desire another woman." 

"And I will," Jaime snarled. He shook his head and refused to look at her, while she simmered in the unfairness of having even to mention to him his sordid past. 

The tears started anew, wet, cold things that turned her heart to ice.  "Just leave. Whatever debt you think is between us is paid.  I don't want your pity." 

He jerked his head as if slapped, bringing it around to burrow close to her own, not minding he had to tilt to his toes. "What do you want? You've taken everything from me, Brienne, demanding my friendship, my silence, my anger, my values, turned me all around. Slowly, so I do not even recognize the man I've become because of you, for you. Even more so now that you've been gone. What more can you want from me?” He pressed closer, breath coating her face like warmed silk, voice lowering until it was a locked secret meant only for her key.  “Because I am a damned fool and I'll give you all of it." 

"Jaime." The end of his name was smothered by his lips crashing in to her and her first thoughts were of the strange push of his mouth, how she had to strain her neck to keep her head from being tossed back.  We must look absurd, she mused numbly while she pressed back. But then he was pulling her, opening his mouth to suck in her bottom lip and dragging her back with teeth and a startling swipe of tongue, the prickle of his beard sending needle points over her chin and cheeks, like he was sewing her into a new tapestry, beautiful and wanted. 

It was not a kiss like she had expected, though she had stopped herself from dreaming of this when she could imprint a face onto the man that would ask for her heart.  When she was younger, it had always been a chaste whisper of lips, but it was supposed to be enough to float her above the clouds, nothing but a maidenly sigh to fortify her for days afterwards.  This, however, was a slam to the earth, a heavy stone in her belly that pulled her towards Jaime like he was the center of a whirlpool. And yet, she was more aware that they were only touching with their lips, that there was still an acceptable amount of space between their hands and bodies that if his heavy, labored breaths of control were not a maelstrom in her ears, she would have wondered how she could be swept up with just the hum of his mouth. 

But the shock was enough to wrench herself away from him, gasping as if she had surged up from the bottom of the sea. He was looking just as lost, panting through his red mouth, nose flaring, his dark green eyes bloomed black pools as he ran them over her face. 

"Brienne," he growled, but she shook her head. 

"How can you-" she took a steady breath. "Why would you do that?" 

He blinked and took a step towards her, a blade the only thing that could fit in the sliver of space he left between them. "I wanted to," he whispered in her ear, as if he were speaking of darker matters, those which her maidenly mind could never have fathomed.  

The marriage bed is an awful place, came Septa Roelle's cold hiss.  There is pain and blood and violations.  But you will bear it, welcome it, as your duty, grateful to be of use to your unfortunate husband. There had never been talk of wanting

"You believed me a man," she said with a hint of anger and a dash of disdain. 

"Aye and even after I knew the truth, I could still look at you and see Galladon," he admitted. She frowned at that and was about to back away from the truth when his hand reached out to close painfully around her upper arm.  "You cannot think it easy that the boy that I watched grow and who became my friend turned out to be a woman.  The feelings I had for Galladon, the fondness, the anger, the understanding, all of it was something new I had to come to terms with." 

"What is the difference, if I was named Galladon or Brienne?" she protested.  "I'm still the same person." 

"Yes," he easily agreed. "But I did not desire Galladon, not that I think, anyway," he snorted.  "And I know I certainly don’t feel anything towards your brother, not even how I did with you before I knew you were a girl.  But," he rumbled.  "Seeing you in the bath...awoke something." 

She scowled, sensing a harsh jape about to roll from him. “It seemed to be your anger." 

“Can you blame me? You lied.” Brienne opened her mouth to explain, but Jaime tossed up his other hand, turning away from the sight of another impeding argument.  “I’m not here to discuss your reasoning now.”  Then he glanced around, dark lashes touching as he squinted to peer up at Evenfall.  “Well, I suppose I am, since I’ve come because you’ve yet again put your familial duty before yourself.” 

“As do most ladies.” 

“True.”  His thumb rubbed across the sleeve of her dress. “But you may have something more.” 

“You?” she asked and then it was she that could not meet his eyes, instead watching how his throat bobbed repeatedly while he worked out a response. 

“You may come to love me,” he offered softly. 

Brienne released a strangled sob with her laugh. I already do.  So much. “But you could not love me.” 

Seeing his shoulders move, she glanced down right as his hands brushed upwards and then traveled around her, where she could feel them wrap across her back and pull her in to him, pressing their bodies tightly from torso to thighs, while she found herself resting her palms on his hips. They were close enough his heart was hammering an answering erratic and rapid rhythm to the excited one of her own.  “I could,” he murmured, his admission distracting her enough that he managed to steal a kiss and draw back before she could realize. 

“Y-you could not…want me,” she weakly protested. 

That he did not even warrant with a reply as he chuckled and drew a wet lipped trail to her ear, leaning in so she could feel him against her hip.  Jaime Lannister was certainly not the chivalrous knight she had fantasized about. Though she was not the helpless maiden, either.  He was not offering to keep her from being a lonely miser, but rather to give her a future more than just the chaste and dutiful union she was bred to accept. 

“Jaime,” she sighed as he slowly teased her with his mouth returning so close.  “Do you truly want to marry me?” 

He snorted, his breath splashing against her cheek as he then captured her lips, softer than before, but still not precisely gentle.  He suckled softly and let out a contented sigh when she tried to mimic him, her palms running up to clutch at his back beneath his tunic, feeling the wetness of his sweat.   For a moment, she thought that he was about to pry open her mouth and slip his tongue inside, but then he jerked away, nearly tearing off her lip in the process, and coughed as he stepped back. Only then did Brienne recall that they were being watched, that it was no longer proper for him to be alone with her. Their time together as Galladon and Jaime had allowed them to bond as perhaps decorum would have never let them do as lord and lady, even as terrible as they were at fulfilling those titles.   

“I want to marry you,” Jaime replied. “I want to know Brienne.” He grinned that mischievous smile she had thought she knew, but there was a sensual shade sunken into the crinkles of his grin. 

“You know me.” 

He hummed at that.  “But I don’t know you as a husband would. And I’d like that.” 

Oh, yes, she would like that as well.  She sighed and braved tilting her chin so she could be the one to kiss him, perhaps a bit too quickly as they knocked teeth, which caught on her chapped lips and they ended up tasting her blood.  Both chuckled at their eagerness, but did not pause, only moved their heads to change the angle and, after years together, learn something new with each other. 

“Brienne,” Lord Selwyn barked lowly, snapping them apart like a taut string sliced in two.  When she spun around, hot cheeks already burning, she saw him standing with his retinue, frowning as usual.  But his disapproving gaze lightened when she felt Jaime’s large hand wiggle into her own and cage around her fingers.  “Well, is this man satisfactory to you?” 

“Yes, Father,” she said as she bit into her smile. “He has been for a long time.”