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Overcoming the Past

Chapter Text

Sheriff Jaime Lannister slouched on the bar in the town's saloon. “Stage's in,” echoed through the room, big thing for a small place like this. It meant mail, guests, outside business. Jaime hadn't been sheriff but a few weeks, a small place in Kansas, away from the troubles of the cattle drives and rowdy cowboys. He'd been working his way West for a good year now, taking on security jobs and recently taking up the law. He could almost chuckle at that, given how renowned he'd been during the War of Northern Aggression for his reckless ways and dishonorable deeds. But the War was over, Dixie broken as much as himself; and a man who has skills with a gun and horse and was willing to help instead of hurt was all a town like this said they cared about.

The stagecoach driver entered, a tall, large man, still covered in dust, an Army Colt on his hip. Likely fought for the Union, Jaime thought. Tarth, everyone in town spoke well about the man, kindhearted and friendly, they said. Jaime took a sip of his whiskey with his only remaining hand, his left, still not as graceful as the right he'd lost late in the war.

“A whiskey please, Davos,” the driver said beside him.

Jaime cocked his head and took a good look. The words had been polite, educated, Northern, from New England Jaime reckoned, and feminine, very clearly that voice had come from a woman.

The stagecoach driver turned to him. Sparkling blue eyes glanced at the shortened stump Jaime rested against on the bar, the sleeve pinned back to hide the horrid scar left where his wrist should be, then her gaze rested on the silver badge upon his red silk vest.

“You're the new sheriff,” she said. Looking at her face to face there was little doubting Tarth was a woman. Oh, she was the largest woman Jaime had ever seen, and she was decked out in dusty pants, boots and a man's blue work shirt. Yet, her face was feminine, although a bit plain, nose broken too many times, teeth crooked in a large mouth with plump lips, a sprinkle of freckles upon her surprisingly pale skin. Her straw colored hair was cut short, sticking at odd angles from the worn hat she'd set upon the bar.

Jaime swallowed and straightened himself up. “Yes,” he answered. “Whiskey's on me, Davos.” The barkeep glanced between them, poured a glass for the driver, and backed away.

Tarth titled her head. “Is something wrong?” Her words were clipped and precise.

Jaime shook his head. “No. No one mentioned... you were... a woman.”

She raised a fair eyebrow. “Does that matter?”

Jaime shrugged. “Suppose not if you're any good with that gun strapped to your hip.” He glanced at her hips that did have a slight curve to them, leading to long shapely legs.

“You have only one hand, why do you need two guns?” She cocked her head.

He wore his pair of Remington new army pistols with the left butt backwards, and the right butt outwards, both to be drawn by his left. Jaime gave a wide smile. “So I have the same number of shots as the next man.”

“To be fired half as slow?” She scoffed and shook her head. “A one-handed rebel, that was the best they could find?” She tilted up her chin. She'd heard as much of the South in his voice as he'd heard the North in hers. Her tone cut, reminding him of ignorant Northerners poking their noses where they shouldn't.

Jaime frowned and emptied his glass. The whiskey burned down his throat. He pushed himself up tall with his stump, and found he was a good inch shorter and had to look upwards to her eyes, really a glorious shade of blue. “If I can do this one-handed, means I'm damn good.” Not that he wanted to think on the long years of killing men that had given him that hardness.

Tarth tightened her thick lips and scowled which made her plain face almost ugly. No wonder the woman wasn't married and settled down back East where she'd come from.

Jaime gave an easy, well-practiced smile, dipped his head and lifted his hat from his head. “Jaime Lannister,” he said as introduction.

Still, scowling, she answered, “Brienne Tarth.” She reached out with her right hand, before realizing as people always did, he had no right hand to shake.

Jaime's smile pulled tight on his face. He reached out his left and shook her right, his palm to the back of her hand. As their flesh touched he realized the intimacy in the gesture and withdrew his hand, trying to keep the smile upon his face.

“Actually, Miss Tarth,” he said, making sure to emphasis the miss, “I needed to find you anyhow. There's a payroll shipment your stage is carrying that I'm supposed to guard for the bank.” This wasn't near the rowdy cowtowns, but didn't mean the territory out here was safe. The war had made too many men capable with guns, given too many men no qualms on killing. “Shipment's day after tomorrow,” he continued. “Stop by for the rest of the particulars when you get a chance today.” Jaime turned to leave.

“How?” Tarth asked. “How do you mean to guard anything riding on the back of my stage one-handed?”

That stopped Jaime and turned him back around. He titled his head, his smile strained. He hated being a cripple, hated it more when someone outright reminded him he was one. Davos gave Jaime a wary eye. Large Brienne Tarth just stood her ground, back straight, head cocked, chin tilted up.

“I have two arms,” Jaime said. He waved his shortened right one to display it. He already hated the idea of hours using it to struggle without a good grip so his left was free to draw.

She nodded her head once stiffly. “Very well. I'll be by later for the details.”

Jaime gave her a smile, dipped his head and said, “Until then, ma'am.”

#

Dawn rose brightly on the flat plains, the town of Harrenhal a dot upon an unending horizon of tall golden grass and bright blue sky. Brienne turned back to her stage. The horses hoofed the dusty street, ready to get underway. Sheriff Lannister strolled towards her with a grin. He had the easy charm of a Southerner. The war had likely aged him, gray showed at his temple and speckled the stubble upon his chiseled jaw. Lannister was stunningly handsome in a way one rarely saw in person. Even his imperfections made him more handsome, his slightly crooked teeth adding to the charm of his smile, his missing hand adding to his manly arrogance.

“Mornin' Miss Tarth,” he said in a thick drawl.

Brienne tightened her lips. It was going to be a long few days. “Good morning,” she replied, because she had always been told to be polite, even to those she did not prefer.

The two of them watched as the bank manager, a portly man with a drooping mustache, loaded up the stage with carpet bags of bundled US government notes. Brienne kept her expression neutral while she mentally swore. Talk about taking to the countryside with a large target on her back. She spared Lannister a glance. Hopefully he was all he bragged about, all that the town's people already gloated about. Even then, Brienne was not certain they'd get out of this ride in one-piece.

“Thank you kindly,” Lannister gave the bank manager a wide smile as he closed and locked the stagecoach door. “Shall we, Miss Tarth,” he said, his head cocked.

Brienne almost managed not scowling. She gestured with her head to the back of the stage. “I put on an extra rifle for you.”

Lannister's wide smile flattened and stretched across his face. She recognized the expression as annoyance. She had again stupidly mentioned his limitations. How did a man fire a rifle well one-handed? She'd just thought the rifle would be better than the sheriff's pistols. A rifle had better range, which was why her own Winchester yellow boy rifle always rode loaded beside her on a run. Brienne mentioned none of this though, Lannister surely already knew it.

“I...” She couldn't push the apology on her tongue out of her mouth, even with the grimacing smile on his face. “Yes, we should go.” She patted her team horses once more, before moving to the front of the stage. “Let me know when you're ready.” Then, with ease Brienne pulled herself up to the driver's seat.

Lannister took a bit to situate himself on the back of the stage. She trusted he could manage keeping himself hopefully seated back there. It was a small seat and required one to hold the back grip the entire time. Finally he gave a ready and Brienne snapped the the whip to get the horses moving. From training, the horses knew to walk until they reached the edge of town. Another crack of the whip and they took off at a gallop. The road as it were was dry and deeply rutted. She bounced around as usual and only spared a quick glance behind her to guarantee Lannister still held on as best as he could.

Chapter Text

“Sure not much of a talker,” Sheriff Lannister said, his voice raised to be heard over the steady stamping of hoofs and creaking of the stagecoach.

Brienne frowned, not that Lannister would see it with her back turned to him. “Busy job leading a stagecoach at the best of times.” She kept her attention divided between the dusty road and the surrounding landscape.

Lannister chuckled, the sound light over the noise. “You do it well.”

Brienne tightened her lips and felt the leather reins in her gloved hands. “Well for a woman?” She'd been riding since her father had finally allowed her as a young girl. There was a freedom to it, same as to manning a boat upon the ocean herself, or knowing herself capable and able of defending herself. It was one thing to be large and mannish, she had been so since childhood, but it was always another to do a job reserved for a man.

“No. You're drivin' those horses about the best I've seen.” His voice held no mirth. Brienne almost spared a glance over her shoulder to see his face, to tell if the respect she thought she heard in his voice was truly present. Rumor about town said he was deadly with a gun and more than good on a horse. Perhaps he actually knew what he spoke of.

“Road go down into that gully ahead?” Lannister asked.

“Yes.” Were she on horseback she'd go around through the rough of the wilderness, but the stagecoach needed the relative smoothness of the road. It left them no choice but to make themselves a bigger target.

“That's where they'll stage their ambush.” His words were a statement, not a question, said with knowledge and experience.

Brienne found herself nodding agreement. She swallowed. Her eyes scanned the short bushes atop the gully. Nothing looked out of place, no men, no horses, no glint of weapons in the sun.

A thud sounded behind her and Brienne couldn't help reaching for her gun before she realized that it was Lannister. He had settled upon the roof of the stagecoach, in a half crouch, his face now inches from her own.

Her stagecoach was small, meant mainly for mail and shorter trips between towns unreached by the rail. The bucket driver's seat she sat had no room for two people, especially as Lannister was not a small man.

“Don't slow the horses much,” he said, his voice in her left ear and his breath warm upon the side of her face. “Don't want 'em to think we might be aware. But, make sure these team horses have the energy needed if you have to ride 'em hard.”

Brienne nodded and slowed the horses a barely detectable amount. Her team horses were good, strong, but pulling the stagecoach they'd hardly be able to outrace a mounted rider. Her heart pounded in her chest. Her palms grew sweaty and Brienne welcomed that her gloves didn't allow the reins to slip in her grip.

Behind her Lannister positioned the rifle she had given him such that it would be reachable by her if needed. She heard him unholster his pistol. “Steady,” he said.

The stagecoach entered the gully, the horses stepped with practice on the steep decline. Stunted, twisted oaks grew along the banks of a dry creekbed. The higher ground, she remembered from the war, one always wanted the higher ground. She peered above them, and perhaps it was her imagination that she saw movement in the bushes, heard a faint neigh of a horse.

“Ready,” Lannister whispered in her ear. He cocked his gun and the sound seemed to echo in the growing silence.

Brienne reached for her rifle and cocked it before laying it across her lap. It was no longer just her imagination, there was movement above them now. Then, the first shot pierced the air, hit and splintered wood off the side of the stagecoach. Jaime answered fire and a man above them tumbled down the side of the gully. Lucky shot, Brienne thought, not that they could not use a great deal of luck.

The first shot brought more. The bullets bounced off the rocks and tore through the bush. She whipped the horses faster, and they faithfully obeyed despite the gunfire. From practice, she wrapped the reins around her wrist to fire and recock her rifle. This was not the first time she had fought off bandits or Indians on a ride. She fired at anywhere she spotted a man. She counted a good dozen of them. The only saving grace was they were set in place and the stagecoach moved faster, out of their line of fire.

Behind her, Lannister fired away. His shots were pretty accurate even at a distance and when shooting with a pistol on the moving stagecoach. “Not over yet,” he said, and Brienne wasn't sure if the comment was to her or both of them. The gunfire lessened and the stagecoach bounced along, deeper in the gully where the bottom widened. Bushes grew about the sides of the road and led to ash and hickory trees that reached almost tall enough to peek out of the gully. Brienne's heart raced and her palm sweated in her gloves. She held her rifle tight. Her eyes darting everywhere at once to see where the next threat would come from.

Then, the riders came upon them. Brienne whipped her team horses faster. The stagecoach bounced and jostled ahead. For a short time, the stagecoach raced ahead of the riders. Dust bellowed around them. Shots fired as Lannister aimed at and took out a rider. His horse veered off the road and plodded into the creekbed.

It would not last though. Even with four horses pulling the stagecoach it weighed down the team horses, not build for speed anyway, too much. The lead rider came upon Brienne's right. She fired her rifle at the rider's chest. The shot knocked him back from the saddle.

Lannister fired down from the top of the stagecoach. From the corner of her eyes she saw the shot shatter through the bandit's hat and likely skull. Another rider had approached from the left. Brienne heard the clamor on the stagecoach's roof. She turned to find the rider atop the stagecoach beside Lannister. His shot winged the bandit, but the bandit still moved toward Brienne and the reins of the stagecoach. She didn't need to count, there were too many of them. She and Lannister alone wouldn't be able to hold them off forever.

Brienne swung an elbow back at the bandit behind her and brought around her rifle. Just as she was about to fire, Lannister got off another shot. This one sent the bandit slumping forward, half over the bench. Brienne shoved the dead body to the ground.

The stagecoach jostled ahead. The team horses following the road in a panic. “Behind you,” she called. A bandit had climbed aboard the roof and was right behind Lannister.

Lannister whipped around and pulled his trigger, but his pistol clicked empty. He backhanded the bandit across the face with the butt of his pistol, dropped it while the man caught his senses and reached for his second pistol. Brienne readied her rifle to fire at the bandit, and then heard, “Whoa.”

She twirled in her seat as the stagecoach slowed. A rider had taken the lead team horse by the reins and pulled it to slow the panic horses. Brienne whipped the team horses, not wanting to hurt them, but they needed to be moving. However, they only slowed more. Another bandit came aboard the stagecoach, and then another. She fired at the first, while Lannister shot the one already atop the stagecoach. Too many of them, Brienne thought.

She heard an oomph as one of the bandits swung a rifle butt at Lannister's head. The sheriff slumped lifeless on the top of the stagecoach. A bandit climbed into the driver's seat. The horses had almost come to a stop. She punched the bandit beside her and shoved him to the edge of the seat. The horses stilled and someone else pulled the brake. It rocked her and the bandit beside her forward and she took advantage of knowing the stagecoach's action to shove the man off the bench to the ground below.

“Put down the rifle,” a voice said behind her. The cold steel of a pistol pressed into the back of her head. The cocking of the gun echoed. “Come without a fight and you'll live.” The voice was a cold as the pistol's steel and she had no doubt the man would kill her dead if she protested, very likely would still later.

Brienne uncocked her rifle and laid it away from herself. She lifted both of her hands into the sky. At the least she had failed and lost the bank's cash, at the worst, neither her or Sheriff Lannister would get out of this alive.

#

“Largest woman I've ever seen.”

Jaime narrowed his eyes, but kept still. It had been a good show against the bandits, him and Tarth. She was handing with a rifle, that was for certain. But in the end, there'd been too many men and the stage wasn't as fast as mounted riders.

They were a rough bunch of men, wearing thread-bare remnants of uniforms and armed with well cared for guns. Jaime knew what their leering eyes on Miss Tarth meant. She was a large woman, and not too shapely, but she was a woman and who knows the last time many of these men had seen one. Jaime' head still ached from where it had taken a rifle butt.

“Large or not,” one of the rougher men said, “bet her cunt's warm enough.” He gave a smirking leer that showed off missing teeth.

Tarth's eyes widened and she struggled against her bonds. Jaime tightened his jaw. Silly woman for playing at being a man, he thought. Three of the men advanced on her. She kicked one, shouldered another, swung her bound hands at the third. But three against one wasn't a fair fight. They backhanded her, ripped her shirt. They flipped her on all fours and two of them held her while the third fumbled to lower his breeches.

Jaime looked away. He watched the flames dance in the fire as the men talked dirty, laughed and jeered, as Tarth screamed. Some of the men he'd rode with in the war were worse than these, and he'd heard and seen his fair share of rapes. Horrible thing to do to a woman, but men were horrible beasts when one removed their humanity.

One of the men gave a grunt. “Hold her still, ya bastards.” Jaime closed his eyes, tried to go elsewhere. Brienne Tarth let out a loud scream, shrill and blood chilling. Just a silly, stupid, large woman, he thought. Damn her.

His eyes snapped open and he took in the screen, counted the men. Tieing the wrists of a one-handed man took skill these men didn't quite have. He rubbed his arms together and reached his fingers to work at the knot while he calculated distances to the nearest unattended pistol, to the team horses loaded with the money, to Tarth where she struggled with her attackers. The odds were shit, and he was a stupid fool himself to even try. While the camp looked at her, the ropes fell loose from Jaime's wrists.

The rest happened in a blur. He grabbed a pistol, shot and killed two men before the others turned to him. He tossed that pistol to Tarth while he reached for a dead man's gun, shot and killed the next man in his way. The air filled with the stringent odor of gunpower, the shouts of men, the whinnying of horses.

“Get your team,” Jaime said to Tarth. Her feet stumbled when he pushed her forward, but her aim was steady. She took out two men on her own before mounting the nearest of the barebacked team horses. The men had loaded on the sacks of cash. Jaime pistol whipped a man who came at him from the bushes and took up one of his own pistols from his belt they'd slung across one of the team horses. He fired and hit his man as he struggled to mount with his stump and no saddle stir-ups.

While Jaime circled his horse to take out a man trying to mount up, Brienne stirred the other mounts into a skiddish flight away from the camp, and grabbed the lead of a team horse loaded with a sack of cash. Then, they were away, riding and leading the team horses as fast as they could. They tracked through a creek for a good quarter mile to hide their trail, although Jaime heard no one in pursuit. It wasn't until the sun began to lower that he realized Tarth, who led them, wasn't taking them back to town, but north and towards where the stage had been scheduled to go. Stupid, silly woman, he thought again.

#

Brienne hugged her knees to her chest, the log beneath her dug into her backside. Her heart had finally stopped pounding, but instead she'd started to shiver. She was not going to play the part of a weak defenseless woman, and yet when she thought back to being held, to the man with his hardened cock pressed between her legs, she couldn't help but feel exactly such.

It was well past dark. The sheriff leaned down to light the kindling in the small woodpile he'd built. Perhaps the thin grove of trees was enough to hide a fire. Although they had long lost their pursuers. She did not have the energy to fight him on whether or not a fire was wise. His scrapping of flint was awkward and clumsy one-handed, yet in the gunfight he had been sure, cold blooded even.

The kindling lit finally, and caught the first small branches. Lannister sat back opposite her from the fire. “They didn't.... did they?” he asked with a frown.

He was unable to say the word rape, yet Brienne wondered if Lannister would also be unable to do the act. She shook her head, found her voice for the first time since screams had come from it, “No.” Not quite, she thought. A shiver ran through her at the thought of rough hands tearing her shirt and undershirt, of nails digging into her hips to pull down her trousers.

“Good.” The frown still hung to Lannister's face. “I should take a look at that shoulder.” He got up from the fire.

Brienne tugged her knees closer, her breath catching. She had felt the bullet tear through her shoulder in their escape, could feel the sharp ache of the wound still.

Lannister paused, arms raised, showing off the stump of his right. “I'm not gonna hurt you, but it needs tending to.”

She wondered what he saw in her eyes. He had saved her, perhaps because as a lawman it was what he should have done, but still. Slowly, she nodded. As he approached, she forced herself to lean back and lower her legs. Finally, as his hand gently felt her shoulder, she lowered her arms. The remnants of her shirt fell open, her skin bare and chilled in the small flickering light of the fire.

Lannister reached out to her chest and she shifted back, until she realized he was tugging the edge of her shirt back closed to cover her breasts. His fingers were gentle as he probed the wound, not that she still didn't suck in breath at the pain. He smelled of gunpowder, horse and sweat.

“Through and through, which is good,” Lannister said. “Bleeding's mostly stopped already.” He paused, gave a slight frown. The firelight lit his eyes blue-green, gorgeous as the rest of him. “No whiskey or clean bandages. Best if I lance it.”

Brienne was not new to gunfire or even killing men, although she liked to think she had not hardened to such, but she had never been wounded in a gunfight. With no other way to clean the wound and miles from their destination, the sheriff was right it would be best if he lanced the wound with fire. Lips pinched tight, she nodded.

Lannister retrieved a stick from the fire. He handed it to her to hold, having only the one hand, while he carefully pulled her ruined shirt off only her shoulder. Brienne glanced at the glowering red ember on the end of the stick. As Lannister took back the stick, he opened his mouth as if to possibly state the obvious that this would hurt, then closed it again.

Brienne clenched her teeth and looked upwards. Stars shown down bright from the wide, dark sky. By instinct she searched out the north star, the brightest. Her father's words from long ago echoed, 'It will always be there to guide you home, sweet Brienne.'

The pain burned through her shoulder and down her arm. The second time was not as bad since everything already felt afire. She sucked in breath and willed herself not to cry out as a woman would, yet tears still gathered in her eyes and a single tear dribbled down her cheek.

Lannister leaned back silent after and shoved the stick back into the fire. They sat there, feet apart, pain coursing through Brienne and a caring look on the sheriff's face.

“Take off your shirt and tear bindings,” he said. Brienne stared back wide-eyed. “I'll give you mine to wear after.” She paused, knowing as ruined as the shirt was the fabric was almost all that covered her above the waist.

Lannister scoffed finally and turned his back to her. “Better, ma'am?”

He fumbled with the buttons to his shirt one-handed. Slowly, Brienne took off her shirt, careful of her shoulder. She held it in her teeth to tear strips of fabric. Lannister used his teeth to tear off the pinning of his shirt's right sleeve.

He turned around, his shirt held out before him. “Here.” His eyes focused on only her face and then the ground. Still, Brienne felt blush covered her cheeks. Was she such a sorry excuse for a woman? She'd always been too tall, too large, bigger than most men. Her breasts she knew were tiny upon her large muscular chest.

Brienne hugged his shirt to her chest as she handed off the fabric strips to Lannister. He had to use his teeth to pull the bindings tight, his face mere inches from her own. If he noticed her blush in the darkness, he never mentioned it, and his eyes never strayed to her breasts. Finished, he rose and crossed back to the other side of the fire.

Brienne quickly turned her back and shrugged into his shirt. It fit her well, perhaps only a bit too small. Then again, the sheriff was a large man, almost of a size with her, more than most men could do.

“Jerky?” He offered her some over the fire. Brienne accepted and took a bite, not because she was hungry but because she knew she should eat.

“You were in the war,” Lannister stated.

“What would that matter?” She straightened her back. She had told her father what she had intended, to dress as a man and join up with the state militia at the least. She'd been only 16, but already taller than most men save her father.

“Later part?” He cocked his handsome head. “What unit? You see any action?”

Brienne stared across the fire at him. “You lost your hand in the war.” No need to state they had clearly fought on opposite sides. She could hear the South in his voice, surely he could hear New England in hers.

“Battle of the Wilderness in '64.” Lannister gave his tight smile. “Hemmed in by thick forest, couldn't see but a few feet before you.” He frowned down at the stump of his right hand. Surely he had been lucky to have lost only his hand, and not his arm or life along with it.

He said no more, asked no more, just passed her a canteen of water over the fire. Brienne washed down the dry jerky. Lannister sat, studying her, his green eyes intelligent and more empathetic than she might have thought.

Chapter Text

She had not failed, Brienne told herself. Wells Fargo had been upset about the loss of their stagecoach. But, she had still brought back all four team horses, in her mind a better item to save as the training of her horses was not as easily replaceable. Most importantly, they had saved and delivered the bank notes to their destination at Cimarron on the railroad. At least, the company had not lost any reputation over the incident.

Brienne crossed the street from the boarding house the company had put her up in. Accommodations out west were never elegant, but in town usually adequate. Her shoulder still held an aching tightness, but would be back to normal soon enough. The sun had dried most of the mud from yesterday's rains, still Brienne wove her way around the mud left in ruts and holes. She entered the smaller of the town's saloons.

Sheriff Lannister waved her over from a far table. Brienne tried to keep her face neutral. He had saved her from rape, had bandaged her wound after, well enough the town's doc had only re-bandaged it and nodded his approval. He hadn't complained when he realized they were traveling on to their destination. Even when it took two days slow ride, the last through rain, while riding bareback on the team horses, the spare horses loaded down with the carpet bags of bank notes. Yet, something about the man still grated her.

She settled on the edge of the chair across from Lannister. He had washed the mud of the ride off himself and his clothing. He looked stunning, even with the scabbed over cut on his forehead. He had taken a room in the inn, and without a horse of his own, waited for her replacement stagecoach to arrive from Kansas City so they could return to Harrenhal.

“Smoke? Drink?” He motioned with his hand to a second empty glass beside a bottle of whiskey, then took out a pouch of tobacco from his vest jacket. It was red silk, worn, yet expensive when first bought. He, at the least, had once had money. Her father, in his limited time as a congressman for Maine, had dealt with a shrewd and ruthless southerner named Tywin Lannister, and she wondered if perhaps there was some relation.

Brienne didn't answer, and Lannister cocked his head. “Both, please,” she replied.

A small fleeting smile graced his lips, before Lannister poured both of them a glass of the almond colored whiskey. He set to rolling up two cigarettes of loose leaf tobacco, a feat with only his one hand. The stump of his right arm lay in his lap, as usual. She had never thought how difficult simple things might be with only one hand before the last few days with the sheriff.

He handed one of the rolled cigarettes to Brienne and placed the other in his own lips. Brienne struck a match from his kit and lit and puffed first her own cigarette before lighting his. If Lannister was offended by her assistance, he kept quiet about it. She gave her cigarette a light draw. She did not often partake, but had picked up doing so occasionally in the war. It was good tobacco, not that she expected less from a once southern gentleman.

Lannister leaned back in his chair and let a trail of smoke out the side of his mouth. “Your new stagecoach should be in tomorrow?”

Brienne nodded. “Yes.” She sipped the whiskey. From the label, she already knew it would be mid-quality. The harsh liquor burned down her throat. She did not mention that she would be glad to be done dealing with the sheriff for a time. “I am sure that Harrenhal will manage well enough without you for another day.”

The sheriff gave a slight chuckle. “It's a slow place. Sure nothing's happened. About the only action I've seen since pinning on this badge was on your stagecoach.”

Brienne took another sip of her whiskey. Had he counted how many men he had killed that day and the night after during their escape? Lawman or not, Lannister was a cold-blooded killer. Then again, he had been a rebel solider, should she except anything less.

“How's the shoulder?” he asked. Awkwardly, he held his cigarette between his fingers to take a sip of his whiskey.

“How's your head?” she replied.

Lannister gave a tight smile before replying with his usual charming manner, “I've had worse.”

“The shoulder is fine.” She took another draw on the cigarette. More than fine, really, but she was not going to tell him that.

He let out a soft huff and leaned further back in his chair, took a deep sip of his whiskey, and then a deep draw of his cigarette. His blue-green eyes studied her. Brienne was used to being given second looks as a large woman taking on a man's job, living in a man's world. Yet, there was something disarming about Lannister's gaze, something that made her feel as bare as she had the night of their escape with her pale skin uncovered by the remnants of her ruined shirt.

They sat for a moment in awkward silence, much as they had for most of the two days ride to Cimarron. Parting from the man could not come soon enough.

“Why?” she finally managed to ask. He had not needed to save her to save himself.

Lannister cocked his head. “Why what?”

Brienne tightened her lips. “Why did you save me from...?” her voice came out almost a whisper in the rowdy saloon.

Lannister gave a slight frown and looked down at his half empty glass of whiskey. “Horrible thing to do to a woman, rape,” he finally answered, his voice even quieter than hers had been. He looked up and met her eyes. “The first would have been bad enough... and the rest...”

Brienne felt her face pale and swallowed down the bile that threatened to rise. She had not allowed herself to fully think of it, that it would have been many, possibly all, of the men who had taken them. “And as a lawman--”

Lannister chuckled and shook his head. “Law in the West is as much about coin in your purse than keeping peace. No...” He shook his head again, opened his mouth to speak and closed it again.

“Then, why?” she found herself asking. She was just an ugly, large woman. Most men would have thought rape apt for her trying to live the life of a man.

Sheriff Lannister frowned and drained the rest of his whiskey. He gazed at her, swallowed and finally let out a deep huff, but he said no words to answer her. Could this rebel slave owner have actually saved her because it was the right and proper thing to do? She narrowed her gaze on the handsome sheriff and took another sip of her whiskey. Perhaps, there was some good in the man, perhaps.

#

 

“Wanna go for a ride.” Sheriff Lannister sat himself down across from her at the table where Miss Tarth rather daintily ate her breakfast. She rode well. He had seen evidence of how well she could ride, as well as shoot. Valuable skills for the West, and Jaime wondered where she had learned both.

She looked at him and blinked her beautiful blue eyes. “A ride?”

He leaned his right arm on the table and reached out to snag a piece of potato from the hash on her plate. Tarth frowned down at him, and Jaime somehow kept a smirk from his face. “I assume you have the day off. Go horse riding with me.” He knew she'd come in just this morning and headed first to the inn's dining room, about the only place in town for a hot meal. Dust still covered her blue shirt and a streak of it ran across her forehead from where her hat had sat.

She cocked her head and considered him. “I have no horse,” she finally answered, and turned back to neatly finishing her breakfast.

Tarth was possibly the most stubborn person he'd ever known, and he'd fought a war with a whole army of stubborn men. Even after being attacked, she had taken the bank notes on to their destination. They'd stayed two nights there waiting for a new stagecoach. He'd offered to pay for a room in the inn, instead of the bed in the boarding house the stage put her up in, but she had denied him.

She'd ridden out the day after they returned to town on her next run with her stagecoach. Jaime had oddly missed her this past week. Despite what the town believed, Jaime was not a womanizer and in truth few women interested him. So, he couldn't put his finger on what exactly drew him to the large woman.

“Then, you're in luck, Miss Tarth.” He leaned back with a grin. “Happens I own two horses. You're certainly welcome to borrow one of mine for our ride.”

She titled her head and tightened her thick lips. “Why do you own two horses?”

“Well, I'd only meant to buy the one, but....” He shrugged. He found them at a small farm in the middle of Tennessee. He was replacing his own gelding which had come up lame. He hadn't quite decided which horse he wanted. The bay mare was older but part quarter-horse and feistier, the pale white gelding had a calm nature though an ambling gait.

“But?” Tarth waved a hand for him to continue.

“They were kinda a pair.” He frowned as she blinked back. “Bonded.” He'd watched those two horses for a good hour trying to decide between them and noticed how they glided together down the pasture, how the gelding nudged the mare with his snout, how the mare pranced for him in reply. “Seemed a shame to separate them. 'Sides I talked the seller down to more than a fair price for the pair.” That old farmer had known as well how bonded the two horses were, and was desperate for money, something Jaime had at least a bit of given his father's business in the north.

Tarth narrowed her eyes at him and tilted her head.

“Meet you in an hour, at the livery?” he asked, trying to hide the doubt in his voice.

She gave a curt nod. “Yes, Sheriff Lannister, I will see you then.”

It surprised him more than he had thought it would that Tarth had taken him up on his offer. He'd thought on it long and hard while she was gone and had come to the conclusion that what he liked about Tarth was she was also from back East. It was hard to explain how the rough stagecoach driver's politeness and niceties reminded him of home.

Not surprisingly, Tarth had picked the mare to ride. Jaime led them south of town, down to the stream that fed most of the farms around the area.

“From Virginia,” he said. “Spent most of the war in the Virginia 4th cavalry.” He couldn't go expecting her to share anything of her life, without him sharing his. Right now he knew nothing about her past except she was from New England and had been in the war.

“As an officer?” She barely spared him a glance.

Jaime nodded and turned his horse to follow the stream. “Yes.” Who his father alone would have gotten him a commission as an officer. As it was, he'd also had two years of military college to back up such being deserved. “Where might you have resided previously, Miss Tarth?” He cocked his head and waited.

Finally with a sigh, she answered, “Maine.”

Jaime wracked his brain on what he knew of Maine. It was north, cold, still a lot of wilderness. He wondered if perhaps it made the Kansas frontier seem familiar. There was little to Kansas similar to his own Virginia. “From the woods and mountains?”

Tarth shook her head. “From an island. My family is pilgrim stock and has owned most of it... since colonial times.”

Jaime cocked his head and thought about the name Tarth. Had there been a northern congressman with the name? He'd always paid such little attention to his father's colleagues and enemies in Washington.

“Are you related to Tywin Lannister?” Tarth asked and Jaime's heart sunk a bit. It always came back to that.

“Yes.” He kept his face solid as she looked over to him. “He's my father.” Tywin was hated by the North for his political stances before the war. He would never have willingly given up the quarter of his financial holdings from the slaves he owed. He was also hated now by many in the South for seeing beyond cotton and tobacco and branching into industry by brokering a deal years ago with the Baratheons; Robert, the head of the family, being married to his cousin and adopted sister, Cersei.

Tarth looked at him with wide, blue eyes, her face pale in the bright sun. “Then why are you here?”

Jaime wondered why it annoyed and impressed him the woman always just asked what everyone else skirted politely around. Tywin Lannister was one of the richest men in the South, and true Jaime had no need to be eking out a living from his remaining skills with a gun as a lawman.

Instead of answering, he led them down into a small bank. Suddenly the endless grass of the plains gave way to trees, short stunted oaks and hickory with sycamore and berry bushes. The cool shade felt nice. He dismounted and walked his horse to the stream for a drink. Tarth followed along in silence, the mare behind her.

“After the war...” Jaime started. He watched the water meander over a few patches of rocks and shook his head. He couldn't stand the pity in all their eyes, even his brother the dwarf, couldn't deal with the boredom of everyday life in high society, couldn't stomach the disgust in Cersei's eyes at who he had returned as. He shook his head, shrugged since saying any of that aloud escaped him. Tarth walked up beside him, reins loose in her large hand as she let the mare drink.

“So you traveled west,” she stated instead of asked.

Jaime nodded and looked over at her. “What brought you west?”

She tilted her head up. “A person is measured by their worth here.”

He narrowed his eyes. Tarth was strong and able and would be valued for that here. He wondered how much she was valued back East as only a daughter to be wed, a future wife and mother.

“I was in the Maine State Militia and then the Maine 19th infantry,” Tarth spoke clear and clipped. She didn't mention that meant she'd gone in as a man. In a uniform many wouldn't have turned an eye at her being anything but one.

Jaime racked his brain on what he knew about the Maine 19th besides them fighting well in Gettysburg. “Before or after Gettysburg?”

“After.”

Jaime nodded. Wasn't much action left by then. The Siege of Richmond and the few remaining battles that finally broke General Lee. It'd been a good thing, as Jaime hadn't been as useful by then one-handed.

“You fought the entire four and a half years?” Tarth cocked her head.

Jaime tightened his lips and nodded. “From the Battle of First Manassas until Lee's surrender.” Four and a half of the longest years of his life, ones he knew would haunt him until he died. “You should be glad you didn't see so much of the action.”

“Why? Because I'm a woman?” She scowled.

Jaime raised his hand and shook his head. “What would that matter.” He frowned. “Because... it's best to not have seen what men are stripped of civility.” And humanity, he almost added. Although, while he said it, he reasoned she knew a bit. The West was full of too many men like him, who had seen and done too much, who had lost too much civility to ever be fully human again.

She tightened her lips and stared him down, before finally turning her steady gaze to the stream before them. “Nice place.”

“Suppose.” It reminded Jaime a bit of the creeks he'd explore with his cousin Cersei as children. A haven from the ocean of grass that surrounded the town in almost every direction for miles around.

Tarth nodded, and turned with the mare back out of the shade and towards town. She paused, and spun back around, straight backed, she said, “Tarth is an old name with naught much remaining to it but a reputation and small bit of an island. My father has no other family, and... was granted only... me as his living child. Not a son to carry on the name, or even a daughter one thinks worthy of marriage.”

Jaime cocked his head. Her expression had been as solid as wood as she spoke. Most women, even whores, could be more ladylike than the large, awkward Tarth. Still, there was something soft to her, something almost fragile in how she held herself there so solid and unbreakable looking.

She gave a loud sigh and turned on her heel. “Is that what you wanted to get out of me, Sheriff Lannister?” she said as she walked back towards the knee-high grass.

Jaime gave a half frown. “You could call me, Jaime, Miss Tarth.” When she cast a look over her broad shoulder at him, Jaime replaced it with a charming smile.

Tarth raised her chin. “Perhaps when you start referring to me as Brienne.” With that she turned, mounted up and turned the horse back to town.

Chapter Text

It had become a regular thing when Brinne visited the town of Harrenhal to spend time with Sheriff Lannister, Jaime. They would do dinner or sometimes breakfast together at the inn's dinning room. While people had always been friendly at her stops into Harrenhal, none had been her friend. She wondered if she truly considered the southern sheriff as such or not. All she knew was that she rather looked forward to her stage coming to the town now.

Speaking of, Jaime Lannister strolled into the common room of the boarding house where Brienne sat reading a new dime novel. Tucked into the crook of his right arm was a wicker basket. “Picnic lunch, Ma'am?” he asked with a half smile.

Brienne narrowed her eyes and tried not to think again about how gorgeous he was. “Do you not have business to be about?”

His smile widened into a smirk. “Got a deputy to handle the busy riff-raff, for a bit at least.”

She almost rolled her eyes, and sighed as he hefted up the basket to emphasis again why he had come. “Very well.” Best for her not to mention that she hadn't anything else to do today.

They rode out to a gentle hill, covered with thick calf-high grass and a few trees to provide shade. Jaime laid out a blanket and opened up the basket. With a huff Brienne, sat down on the too small blanket and watched the horses graze further down the hill. Jaime laid out sandwiches and two slices of pie. They ate in a mostly comfortable silence – when had such become so familiar, perhaps when the sheriff had become Jaime to her.

“Good ride?”

Brienne nodded. “Yes.” She tilted up her head. “Although I hear I missed all the excitement.”

Jaime paused in eating his sandwich, furrowed his brow. “Ah, the free-man.” He shrugged a muscular shoulder. “Wasn't such excitement in truth.”

Brienne raised an eyebrow. Word had that Jaime had handled the man well and fairly, despite the color of his skin. “Free-man?” Just a more polite word for ex-slave, she thought. Her father had been a staunch abolitionist throughout her childhood, and she had heard all the tales that such people told of the South and the horrible practice of slavery. Perhaps, her limited time in the war had taught her most of those who fought for the South were not the ones who benefited from such practices, yet she sat beside a man who had.

“He came from Georgia, near Augusta way,” Jaime answered, “so, yes, a free-man.” He cocked his head and pinched his lips. “I have nothing against such men and women.”

“Such men and women as you once owned.” Brienne tightened her lips.

“I...?” Jaime shook his head. “I did not own slaves.”

“Perhaps.” Brienne tilted up her head. “Yet, your father did.”

Jaime narrowed his eyes and nodded. “Yes, my father owned close to a hundred slaves before the war.”

A hundred, Brienne thought with a frown. A small town of people in chains to slave away at cotton and tobacco to make his family money. She shook her head.

“My father took care of his slaves,” Jaime continued. “They never wanted for housing or clothes or food.”

“Yet, were sold away from their families and whipped when they did not work hard enough.” Brienne felt her temper raise along with the volume of her voice.

Jaime shook his head and frowned. “I've traveled to New York and Boston. I've seen the factories that supply the economies of the North. Seen the filthy housing, the horrid work conditions, the starving children. No child ever starved on my father's plantation.”

“There is worst than starvation.” She knew a blush crept up her cheeks. “To chain a people, to keep them from freedom.”

“Says someone who has never gone to bed hungry.” Such personal truth rang in Jaime's words, it caused her to blink, to think about this gorgeous rich man starving during the war. “And not all chains are physical.”

Brienne leaned forward. “An immigrant worker's plight might be hard, but they are free to choose their own paths.”

Jaime frowned and furrowed his brow, his eyes green and blazing. “What happens when that immigrant worker falls ill, gets injured? Without wages who pays for his family? When a field hand fell ill, they were cared for, as were the injured or disabled or old.”

“Cared for?” Brienne shook her head. “In dirty shacks with mealy food and rags for clothing.” She thought about the stories of raping women, of selling away babies, of maiming those who ran away, of breaking the sprite of men as one broke a wild horse. All that anger that had flowed through the small common room on Tarth when she'd watch the fervor of abolition party meetings by gaslight in her childhood flowed through her.

Jaime shoved back and stood up, his one fist clenched, a sneer upon his lips. “Have you ever been south of Richmond? What do you truly know about any of it?” He turned and walked a ways down the hill. Back turned she watched his shoulders heave with anger until his fist opened and his breath stilled. Brienne tried to control her own racing heart, temper her own anger.

“All those of wealth build it upon the hardships of those at the bottom, whatever you call the practice.” The wind almost ate his soft words. He turned back to her, his face tired and lined. “Right or wrong, we lost, and you won.” His voice echoed hollow on the open plains as he approached the blanket and again sat down. Perhaps that was the truth of it, wrong or not, the South had lost and with it slavery had been ended.

“Right or wrong, you fought for slavery.” The quietness of her voice surprised her.

Jaime shook his head. “No. I fought for Virginia. Whatever the complexity of how we got there, the Union sent an army into Virginia, and I took up arms to protect it. Tell me you would not do the same for your island, for Maine.”

Brienne stared at the man before her, with his shaggy dark golden hair, his thin beard, his maimed arm. She looked at the touch of gray at his temples and in his beard, at the lines around his blue-green eyes. He had not yet been anything but honest with her about who he was and what he had done. She had never thought of it as such, as an invasion. Perhaps, Jaime had a point, surely he told the truth on what had caused him to join the Confederate army.

“Can we just not speak on it anymore?” he almost whispered.

Brienne frowned at this man who would have once been her enemy and was fast becoming a good acquaintance. Finally, she nodded. “Yes. We seem to have spoken our fill.”

#

Jaime had ridden east to Dodge City for sheriffs business. While he'd ridden his own horse, Brienne's stage had headed out at the same time, and he'd managed to keep abreast of her. He had ridden with her twice before now, yet not seen much but her back large back and worn hat. She commanded the team horses well, sat her bucking seat with grace and had that yellow boy rifle within reach the whole time.

They arrived to find Dodge City bursting at the seams, full of cowboys off long drives from Texas, whores and gamblers and others trying their luck out West. He was on the third hotel and yet to find an empty room when he ran into Brienne, still coated with dust and sweat from the ride.

“Are there any rooms in this heathen outpost?” She scowled, which always made her plain features look almost ugly.

The inn keep stepped up to the front desk. “Yes?” He was thin and grayed.

Jaime gave a wide charming smile. “Do you happen to have any rooms left?”

“Just the one.” The inn kept looking between them.

“Well, darling, seems we are in luck.” He gave a smile to Brienne and then turned to the inn keep. “Me and my wife will take it for the night.”

From the sides of his eyes, he noticed Brienne wide-eyed and blushing and hoped she wasn't going to give away the game. The woman stood an inch taller than Jaime so hopefully at the least the inn keep didn't think she was being taken advantage of. Jaime nudged her with his elbow.

“Yes, what luck,” Brienne said in a flat tone.

The inn keeper gave a wane smile and nodded as he arranged for Jaime to pay and sign for the room. They carried their things, a small carpet bag for Brienne and saddle bag for Jaime, up to the room. It was small, holding a bed that possibly fit two, a leaning dresser with a bowl of water for washing and a porcelain chamber pot in the corner.

Brienne rounded on him as soon as he shut the door. “Married?”

“Would they have let us share the room otherwise?” He cocked his head and tried not to smirk at her discomfort.

“And where do you mean to sleep?” She crossed her strong arms across her meager breasts.

“Bed looks big enough for two.” Jaime gestured to the bed behind her.

Brienne spared it a glance over her shoulder and tightened her lips.

“I'll be a complete gentleman.” He rose both arms, the right stump beside his left palm. “I swear by my mother's grave.”

The steady stare of her brilliant blue eyes flinched and she finally let out a long sigh. “Very well.”

Standing here almost nose to nose with Brienne, alone in a room, the thought of sharing a bed tonight did have him a bit jittery. In the dark of night, his thoughts about Brienne Tarth were not completely honorable or proper. She'd turned away to examine the dresser before she could catch his nervous swallow.

“I should be getting to my business,” Jaime said as he laid down his saddle bags. “I'll leave you to it until later.” He dipped his head and left.

It was almost dinnertime before Jaime returned to the room. He stepped through the door removing his hat, before he heard Brienne's soft squeal. She sat in a large metal tub of soapy water, her knees drawn up to hide her chest. “Close the door,” she hissed.

Jaime did as asked, while he watched a blush spread across her checks and what small part of her chest he could see. He finally dipped his head and stared at the wooden floorboards. He tried not to think about her small breasts he had seen once before, their milky pale flesh and large rosy red nipples. Tried not to think about her long legs he'd just seen, just as pale and muscular as he had assumed. The water slashed a bit and his cock stirred.

“I should leave,” he managed to say.

“Jaime Lannister don't you dare open that door again with me in here.” Her voice held such command it drew his gaze to Brienne. She'd stretched those long legs. One muscular arm covered most of her breasts. Her fair hair stuck up around her head, wet and clean. Her neck was long and slender. Her shoulders sloped more gracefully than he might have thought. It made him wonder if the rest of her held the usual softness of a woman, even if her curves were slighter.

“I'm almost done,” she finally spoke. Jaime managed a nod. “If you'll just....” Her blue eyes bore into his.

“Right.” He nodded again and turned around as his raising told him he should have done a great deal ago. He stared at the tarnished door knob and tried not to think about the sloshing water as she stood, about Brienne fully naked behind him with water dripping down her soft, pale flesh. Not that it worked. He clenched his jaw as his cock hardened.

It had been too long since he'd been with a woman, and he thought to count the months. Besides a few whores' and camp followers' mouths during the war, the last time he'd had sex was Cersei, his cousin, a few months before war broke out. He heard the pad of footfall and the shuffle of clothing. He and Cersei had snuck out of the main house to the top loft of the cotton barn. Her kisses had tasted of the mint juleps she'd been drinking all night, and his mind was a bit fuzzy from the whiskey he'd shared with his brother, Tyrion.

He'd taken her hard and rough. He'd quieted her gasps and moans with his lips and then hand, and growled into her neck upon his release. When he'd moved to redress, she'd made him promise over and over to return to her alive. Then, she'd taken his cock into her slender hand and her warm mouth, until he hardened again. That second time had held a tenderness not usual to their joining. He'd held that memory tight in his heart, all those long nights of the war, through his injury and return from the war, until he'd learned his dear Cersei had spent the war fucking who knows how many other men.

“Water's still warm, if you'd like to bathe as well.” Brienne's clipped tone drew him from his thoughts. He turned to her, forehead furrowed. His cock had softened and he shoved away the thought of why.

Brienne stood, head cocked, waiting for a reply. Spikes of hair circled her head even worse after toweling. She was fully dressed again and Jaime could see the moisture through her shirt giving a greater outline of her breasts than the work shirt usually allowed.

“Be a shame to waste it.” Jaime gave a confident half smile and tugged off his boots and began shedding his clothes. He didn't look to see if she looked away as he bared his chest, muscled and tanned, and then pulled down his pants and long-johns. His legs were just as muscled, and his cock and balls hung between them.

Brienne's gaze remained steady and lingered for too long upon his naked body. She swallowed and looked away with a snort. Jaime slipped into the water, still lukewarm, and he'd certainly bathed in worse. A blush had finally risen on her slender neck, and Jaime tried to not think how her smooth skin would taste upon his lips.

“Dinner?” Jaime asked, if only to fill the stifling air.

Brienne turned to him and cocked her head. “We might as well. We've bathed and all, be a shame to waste having done so.”

Jaime smirked and dipped his head as he laughed, surely the woman hadn't at all meant to really be humorous in her statement.

Chapter Text

Dinner had been rather nice. The hotel's dining room held gold gilded lanterns, actual lace table clothes and Brienne almost imagined herself back East for a spell. Jaime bought a bottle of wine they shared with the meal. He also ordered steak without thinking about how the cook here would not slice the meat into bitable pieces as the dining room in Harrenhal did. Brienne finally reached over to his plate to cut the steak herself, which he surprisingly did not scoff at.

Only the remnants of dinner remained on their plates and they sipped the last of the wine when a flashy gambler stumbled over to their table.

“Lannister? That you?” the man drawled.

Jaime smiled, although the wariness in his eyes bristled Brienne's skin. The gambler wore a bright green vest, well tailored pants and a fancy top hat. An ivory handled pistol hung from his hips.

“It is you,” the gambler said. “Jaime fucking Lannister. Imagine that.” He pulled up a chair without invitation. He smelled of whiskey and cheap perfume.

“Out West too, Lorch?” Jaime said.

“Thought I'd try my luck.” The man gave a wide, sloppy smile and tucked a finger into his expensive vest. “Clearly ain't done bad. 'Sides, more room to spread out here, less rules they care to keep account of.” He chuckled and cuffed Jaime on his shoulder. “But, sure you'd know about that, Kingston Slayer.”

Brienne widened her eyes. She had heard of the slaughter at Kingston, a rebel cavalry unit attacked, raped and killed mostly woman in the Pennsylvania town, yet had never thought Jaime Lannister might have at all been involved with it. Jaime gave a tight smile, and she wondered what it meant.

Lorch clapped Jaime on the arm. “Up for a drink? A game?” He gave another wide smile and finally turned his gaze on Brienne. “That a woman?”

Brienne lifted her chin and tightened her lips. This would not be the first man to think ill of her for being large and manly.

“It is,” Jaime answered flatly. “Miss Brienne Tarth, who works for the stage.”

The man eyed Brienne, her short chopped hair, her wide shoulders and small breasts, the nose that had been broken a few times. Brienne kept her face solid at the scrutiny. Finally the man looked back to Jaime, smirked and gave a laugh with a shrug of his shoulder.

“Suppose take what you can find out here,” Lorch said.

Jaime titled his head and leaned to crowd the small table. “Miss Tarth is a friend, nothing more.” Brienne somehow managed to keep her eyes from widening. She finally caught the implication that Jaime, a gorgeous man, was only keeping Brienne around because he might be sleeping with her.

“Sure.” Lorch turned to Brienne and leered. “Imagine she's as warm as any woman between her big thighs, Slayer,” he added to Jaime.

“Leave.” Jaime sneered as he leaned closer to the other man. “Now, Amory.” His eyes were steady and deadly, his voice rough. Brienne felt the blush spreading up her neck.

Lorch raised his hands and leaned back from the table. “Meant nothing by it Lannister. There's a game starting. Perhaps I'll see you again later.”

Jaime gave no answer, just watched as the other man stood and returned to the rowdy music and cheers of the saloon next door.

“Sorry about that,” Jaime finally said to her. “Some of the men I ran with in the war were... a bit unsavory of men.”

Brienne should thank him for standing up for her honor, not that Jaime Lannister would really see her as such a woman for him to woo anyway. “It was no bother,” she finally found herself saying, which drew a frown from him. She'd been judged for her appearance since she was a child, since her tall statue only got taller and taller, her features less and less womanly.

They paid and went back to their room in silence. The single lamp cast shadows on the peeling paper of the room. The bed still looked too small for the both of them.

“You know this man from Kingston?” Brienne finally managed to ask. She would believe rape and murder of the other man, but she had come to think better of Jaime. She remembered how he had risked his life to save her from rape, the gentle way he had covered her with the remains of her ripped shirt after. Yet, Jaime had been called slayer not once but twice. “You were at Kingston?”

He paused in fumbling with his shirt buttons. “The men, unit, I commanded at the beginning of the war were... a rough sort.” He sat upon the bed, his back turned to her. “Kingston.” He sighed and shook his head. “It got out of hand and before I could...” Jaime turned to her finally. His eyes were sad, a frown on his face. He breathed out another long sigh.

Brienne cocked her head, sat opposite him on the bed.

“There was a man, Clegane,” Jaime started. “His father had been one of the harsher of my grandfather's overseers. They're hard, mean men, the Cleganes, and Gregor Clegane is the worst of them. A mountain of a man, blood thirsty.” His voice was quiet. “The old fools in the town fired on us, even killed a few of our men. The scouting mission turned into a fight. I let my leadership slip for a moment in the chaos, and...” He shook his head, sneered. “Clegane, Lorch and a few others were already killing the old men and boys, raping the woman. There's an animal need just under the surface in any battle and,” he paused and shook his head again, “once let loose I could not contain it. I'm sure there are many man who regret what they did that night.”

“And you?” Brienne titled her head. “Do you regret your deeds?”

“From that night?” Jaime frowned. “In truth the screams, the sway of the bodies on gallows and the flames upon the horizon as we rode away haunt me more than anything else I lived through in the hard years after. Yet, I killed no women or children, raped no one, but...” His face scrunched up. “They were my men, to command, to control, and I failed that town.”

Brienne blinked. She could see the regret in his face, hear the sorrow in his voice. While she might not have seen the worst of it, she knew what lows men could be brought to in war, what horrors they could do to their fellow man.

“I earned a reputation from Kingston, good or ill it depends on who you ask.” Jaime shrugged a shoulder. “It got me a better unit, one I used to help scout and aid General Lee with invaluable information on troop movements.”

“And Clegane?” Brienne cocked her head.

“He got his own unit eventually, and I try not to think of it.” Jaime shifted to face her better. “I heard tell he died in a duel. Much for the better as I hate to think of such a monster back in civility.”

Brienne studied this gorgeous aging man before her. She'd known he was a killer, knew he'd fought in a war. Why should this truth change things? Jaime's eyes held worry and apprehension.

“It was war.” Brienne reached out a hand and placed it upon his knee. “Many did ill they did not think themselves capable of. It's past now.” She thought about how he had saved her, how gentle he had been, about him being upset over the harsh words said to her honor tonight. “What matters is who we are in the now and in the future.”

They sat in silence for a bit, there facing each other on the bed in the warm glow of the lantern. “Tell me about your island,” Jaime finally requested.

Brienne tilted her head. “My island?”

“Your family's island.”

“Tarth?” Brienne furrowed her brow. “There is not much to tell.”

“Then it won't take you long.” He gave a half smile and still clothed settled against the pillows as if to listen to a long tale.

Perhaps it was not such a long tale, yet Brienne told him. She told him about the small rocky island, about the waves and foam surrounding it, about the fishing boats, the kitchen gardens eked out of the rocky soil in the short summer. She told him about the large house on the hill that had stood through storms for hundreds of years, so empty with only her and her father and a few servants. She told him about the snow drifts that could come to her waist some years, about the joy when the last snow finally melted away, about the rocky coast of Maine always to the west and only the wide Atlantic to the east.

Jaime in turn told her about his home of Casterly Rock, about the grand plantation house that had stood more than a hundred years. He told her about the fields of tobacco and cotton, about the beautiful songs of the slaves as they harvested it. He told her about the heavy moist heat of summer, about the few times he'd seen snow as a child. He told her about the gardens, pigs, chickens, livery and blacksmith, about how Casterly Rock had been almost a town in itself, and him once the little lordling of it. He told her about the grand balls they'd had, the ladies all in silk hoop-skirted gowns, the gents in their best finery, the music and laughing that would last until the early hours of the next morning.

As Jaime spoke with more passion than she had heard him before, she realized it was not home but the past he told her about. When Brienne was done with the West and returned home to Tarth, she would find it the same as it had stood for more than a hundred years, unchangeable as its rocky shores. But this world Jaime spoke of had come and gone, even if they argued on its good or ill. The extravagance and grander of his youth would never come again to Casterly Rock.

Eventually they settled into the bed for night, still mostly clothed. In truth it was a tighter fit than Brienne would have liked. She wondered what her father would say of such. Yet, she knew herself to be safe with this man, even if only because he did not find her attractive.

#

Jaime sat in the saloon sipping whiskey. Locals played a game of friendly poker. The girls danced and flirted. Their dresses were simple and often only petticoats and corsets. Most had their faces painted up and their hair curled. Pia, the madam and proprietor, ran a tight ship. Jaime was glad for it, meant he rarely had trouble from her establishment. She was glad Jaime kept an eye on the law enough that her girls were not in danger.

Jaime thought back to that night in Dodge City with Brienne. He'd confessed more to her that night about the war than he ever had to another. Perhaps because unlike Tyrion, Brienne at least had a sense of what war was like, perhaps. They had finally talked themselves out and settled facing each other in the narrow bed. Jaime was just about asleep when Brienne had let out a gentle huff. He'd reached out to her and in his sleepy state realized too late he had reached with his missing right hand. He'd pulled back with a jolt until Brienne's hand had wrapped around the stump of his wrist. It felt odd and lovely.

As Brienne had closed her eyes and she drifted asleep, Jaime lay staring at her. Her long fingers wrapped around the worst part of himself. Her face slacked, no furrowed brows or scowls, and in the moonlight coming through the window she had looked like the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen.

“Good evening, Jaime.” Brienne lowered her tall frame into the chair opposite him.

“Brienne?” Jaime took his gaze from the dancing girls. He cocked his head. The saloon was not a usual place to find Miss Tarth. Aside from her not being a fan of gambling or drink, she seemed to think it would sully her reputation, something she was not exactly wrong about.

She glanced over her shoulder to what he had been watching, and turned back to face him with a raised eyebrow.

“Whiskey?” he said instead of explaining. He knew he was a handsome man, and he knew that Pia and her girls flirted with him. Whatever the town and Brienne might think, he hadn't touched a one of them.

Brienne tightened her lips but did not reply. Jaime raised his hand and motioned to one of the serving girls to bring over another glass. It arrived and Jaime half filled it from the whiskey bottle on the table, something he'd had Pia order special from back East for him and kept behind the bar for when he came in.

“Your cousin, the one raised as a sister, is married to Robert Baratheon.” Her voice was clipped and steady.

Jaime refilled his own glass and took a sip. “Yes, Cersei is married to Robert. My father thought it would bring about good business opportunities.” He could still remember Cersei fuming at having been 'sold off' to a Yankee oaf, yet Tywin had provided for her even after Jaime's mother's death. To deny him was not something Cersei could do unless she wanted to be out on her own. They had never talked about it, and Cersei while raised a Lannister had never been one in name.

“You know the Baratheons?” He cocked his head. They were from Boston, at least in the same part of the country as Maine.

“I knew Renly,” came Brienne's short reply.

Jaime made sure not to raise an eyebrow at her tone, at what it surely hid. All of the Baratheon brothers had fought in the war; Stannis with his rigid ways had done a decent job, Robert had drunk and whored more than led as a general but he'd had a few good tactically moves, Renly, the youngest, with Robert's charisma but none of his vices, had rose in the ranks and made quite a name before his death on the battlefield.

“We fought in the war together,” Brienne continued, “although I knew him from before..” She frowned and actually took a sip of her whiskey, tightening her lips at the strength of it. “I am not an attractive woman. As a girl, even with long hair and dresses, I was always too tall and awkward.” She let out a huff.

Jaime leaned back and cocked his head. There was a beauty to the large manly woman opposite him, a beauty in her courage to be herself and not compromise to society's wishes, a beauty in her fragility despite her physical strength, a beauty to how she handled horses and a gun with a natural grace.

“When I was a young woman I traveled with my father to Portland. He foolishly thought that he might be able to find a young man of society to court me.” She frowned and shook her head. “It turned out an old name and a pretty dress can only do so much.” She swept her hand up and down before her, dressed now in her course blue work-shirt that showed none of her limited breasts, her hair short and unruly as always.

“At first the boys were doting and kind, giving me little gifts and attention,” Brienne continued. “Something none of the boys on Tarth had ever done. Later though..” she paused, leaned back and placed her hands in her lap, her gaze far away. Jaime knew the next before she voiced it. “They had a bet, which was why they wished for my affections.” For a kiss, her virginity, she didn't mention and Jaime didn't feel comfortable asking.

“Young men are stupid fools,” he said instead, knowing he himself had been as much of one over Cersei at such an age.

“Renly had been the only one who was earnestly kind.” She gave a girly sigh. “When we meet in the war, he knew who I was, but kept silent about it.” Brienne gave another sigh. “It was an honor to have fought beside him in the war.” Her cheeks held a slight blush. “And when he died...” Her hand went to her breast in a gesture he'd seen Cersei fake dramatically most of his life, although he knew Brienne's motion held nothing but raw emotion.

“You loved him?” Jaime asked, although he already knew Brienne had loved Renly, had loved a boy who had once shown her kindness. Brienne's eyes snapped to him, wide and blue. Jaime raised his hand. “No judgment. We don't get to choose who we love.” He knew that himself only too well.

Brienne straightened and lifted her chin. “You think I had no chance with him.” Her harsh voice only a whisper.

Jaime knew who Renly Baratheon was. The whole family had known Renly favored men. Jaime had heard the rumors during the war of Renly and Loras Tyrell from Pennsylvania. Perhaps Renly would have eventually found a wife to settle down with, or perhaps as a third son he would have thought it not needed.

“No woman in this room would have stood a chance with him,” Jaime answered.

Brienne frowned. “Do not defame the dead.”

“I liked Renly,” Jaime said as he shifted forward in his chair. “I don't hold who he was, who he preferred, against him. He was a good man and it was a shame the war took him.” Brienne's frown softened, her back slacked a bit. “He was a good uncle to Cersei's children,” – it always bit to call them that aloud –, “their only uncle who cared really.” He'd always been grateful for that, the attention and affection Renly had shown to Myrcella and Tommen.

That sat in silence for a spell. Jaime finished his whiskey and refilled his glass. Brienne finally gave her glass another sip.

“I know what people think about me.” She tightened her lips. “I look like a man and they...”

“I know you like men, like any other woman,” Jaime said. Brienne stared at him wide-eyed. It made Jaime swallow down the lump in his throat while he pushed away what her gaze might mean. Had she once wanted all the silly girlish things that Cersei and the other girls of his childhood had?

She gave a huff and took another sip of her whiskey. Head cocked she stared at him, until Jaime could not stand the attention and asked, “How was your run?”

“Fine.” She straightened, distanced herself from the story of the hurt girl she had shared with him. It made him realize how very fragile this large, strong woman was. “How has town been?” She tilted her head.

Jaime shrugged, and gave the room a look, boisterous and a bit rowdy but nothing there really needed his care. “The same. You leave again tomorrow?”

“Day after.”

Chapter Text

Winter on the low plains was mild, strong bitter winds but little snow. The blazing colors of the grass in the fall had become the dull yellow of winter, the tall grass rippling in the stiff wind like waves on an inland ocean. She rode beside Jaime. Though she had never told him specifically, she rather liked these rides, to sit on a horse was such a different freedom than her stagecoach allowed. The feistier mare had become her horse, and she liked the intelligence that came with the horse's disobedience. Jaime never complained about riding the gelding, and they made a large and handsome pair.

They had come to an understanding it seemed, her and Sheriff Lannister. Besides their rides, she often ate dinner with him when she was in town, stopped into his office to just chat. Sometimes they spoke of her rides, or whatever business he had as a lawman. Sometimes they spoke of back East, a world so far away from this place, a world once divided and now mending and one Brienne wondered sometimes if either of them would return to. In all this, Jaime had become a good friend, more so than any other man in her life, perhaps any other person. There was something about him that felt so familiar and similar to herself, although perhaps more tarnished by his past and the war.

They stopped and dismounted on the crest of a hill. The wind blew harsher, cutting through Brienne's thick wool coat and almost taking her old hat from her head. Jaime's cheeks were rosy from the cold, his mussed up hair as handsome as ever. He gave her a smile, wide and genuine.

Brienne tried to push down the warm feeling that grew in her chest. She knew what it was, she'd felt it before. She also knew who she was, which was certainly not a woman that the handsome and rich man before her desired as more than a friend. She could not risk her friendship to be a silly girl.

Instead, Brienne looked out at the sight before them, the reins of the horse loose in her gloved hand. The rolling hills waved and danced all around until on the far horizon the dull yellow of the grass met with a gray-blue cloudless sky. The scent of snow come on the wind, but Brienne doubted it would come tonight. There was a beauty to this harsh land, much as there was the gray rocks and waves of her home.

When she turned back to Jaime he watched her not the horizon. “Damn, you're beautiful today,” he said as the wind stole his words. The look in his green eyes stirred something deep in her gut. Before she could dispute him, he had closed the distance between them and placed his chilled lips upon hers.

It was awkward for a moment, Brienne had no real experience with kissing. Then, Jaime angled his face, the stump of his right wrapped around her waist, and it was glorious. His lips warmed against her own and the feeling in her gut spread lower. She stepped backwards out of the kiss and came up against the horse behind her.

“What was that?” Her voice came out too shrill.

“A kiss.” His lips did not hold the smirk she thought they might, and wariness showed in his eyes.

“Why?” Brienne tilted her head, frowned. She knew she was ugly and large and not the kind of woman that men truly desired.

“I... You...” He tightened his lips, shook his head. “I wanted to.”

Brienne's heart hammered in her chest. This gorgeous man and his affections were not something she was worthy of. Part of her worried about him treating her as other men had, yet she knew Jaime, she knew he would not do that to her.

She swallowed. “You could have any woman you wanted.”

He scoffed. “So I've been told.” He took a step closer and dropped the reins of his horse, which obediently lingered beside his companion horse. ”You are beautiful, Brienne. You're strong, and not just physically, but strong enough to be yourself. And courageous to follow your own path despite society. Maybe you're tall and broad and your face isn't the prettiest, but I know there are womanly curves to you, and womanly desires.” He'd stepped even closer. His gloved hand taking her own. The reins fell from her other hand, she knew a blush crept up her pale cheeks.

“What am I to say to that, Jaime?”

He shrugged a muscled shoulder in his dark jacket. “I don't know. I'm an old crippled rebel with not much to my name besides a measly sheriff's salary. Not much of a catch.”

Wind blown and cold, he looked almost a god before her. By God she loved this man, the thoughtfulness and kindness that always surprised her. “You're gorgeous,” the whisper slipped from her lips before she could stop it.

Jaime gave a half smirk. “Then, you darling, are indeed beautiful.” His breath puffed warm upon her face. His hand had moved to cup her cheek. “If I kiss you again, will you hit me?”

His words still did not seem true, and she wondered what foolishness had consumed him. Yet, Brienne reached out and gripped his neck. She leaned down and brought her lips to his. Their lips danced together. This was certainly better than the first kiss. His stump drew them closer. His tongue eased open her lips and slipped inside her mouth such that now their tongues danced as much as their lips. The cold wind was forgotten by the warmth between them and the warmth inside her until they finally parted.

Jaime looked even better well kissed, a wildness in his eyes, a smirk on his swollen lips. “We should be getting back,” he said.

Brienne gave a distant nod, her heart still pounding, a blush bright over her face. “That was...”

“Nice? Yeah.” He gave a genuine smile and reached out and squeezed her hand before stepping away to retrieve his horse.

They mounted and made their way back to town, Brienne still uncertain what any of this might mean for the future.

#

Spring came with rain showers and fields of bright wildflowers. Brienne and Jaime had shared more kisses since the first one, enough that it had become familiar. However, the kisses always ended quickly. Jaime had made especially sure for them to always be in public, at dinner, perhaps a stroll about main street after, a drink in the saloon. Never were they alone after dark in his office. Never had he asked her up to his room above the sheriff's office or accepted even the few times she'd invited him to her boarding room. Perhaps that was all correct and right. It was a small town and people would talk. She knew Jaime would never do anything unbecoming, but it was not the reputation the town held of his.

Today though, Jaime had invited her on a picnic with sandwiches and pies from Mabel, the cook at the inn. Brienne had tried not to remember back to their last picnic and the resulting fight. The meal had been nice, the sun warm and the breeze mild. As a child she'd so loved spring, the awakening of nature after the long hard winter.

When Jaime had leaned in to kiss her, Brienne had let him. When he kept kissing her until they were both breathless, she hadn't stopped him. When he grazed a hand on her breast over her shirt, she had arched her back and caused him to growl. She tried not to think of the moisture between her thighs.

Jaime's lips fell to her neck, his fingers worked her nipple into a hard nub. Brienne moaned, a girlish sound, and it drew another growl from Jaime. Her legs parted of their own volition and Jaime shifted to rest atop her between them. His hips bucked against hers as he again captured her lips with his. It took Brienne a moment to realize that the hardness at the apex of her thighs was his hardened penis.

The moisture at her center increased and a tightness grew low in her belly. When he rocked against her again, Brienne gripped his muscular buttocks and drew him closer to the moisture between her legs. Jaime groaned and rocked against her once more before pushing himself off her awkwardly with his hand and stump.

“We need to stop.” His face was flushed and his breathing labored. She attempted and failed at not glancing at the tented front of his pants. “'Less you want me to take you right here in this field.”

Brienne felt the blush darkening her already reddened face. She drew her legs up and towards her. Her breath came as harsh as his own. Part of her wanted what he said, to feel the full passion of this man before her, while the rest of her knew such was too much of a risk.

“May I ask you something?” Jaime asked.

Brienne nodded. “Yes.” Her voice sounded meek to her ears.

Jaime looked away at the spring flowers poking above the tall grass and swallowed. “During the war there was the mouths of a few whores, but otherwise... I have only had sex with one woman.”

Her eyes widened at his use of the word 'sex'. She knew his words to be the truth, and yet could not believe that his handsome man would not have slept with any others. “That isn't a question,” she managed to say.

“No.” He shook his head and turned back to her. “You're a virgin.” His statement was not a question either, although Brienne did not correct him. “Not that it bothers me, just...”

Brienne stared back at him, thinking about how he had been the first man to properly kiss her, the first today to lay his hands upon her, although not the first to raise desires in her. She had once pinned for Renly, despite it being something unattainable.

“What is this between us, Jaime?” Her voice was steady even if her heart still hammered in her chest.

Jaime shifted to sit facing her. He frowned and let out a sigh. “I don't know.”

“Are we courting?” Brienne herself had never done so, but the dinners, rides, picnics, was that not what one did when young and courting?

Jaime scoffed. “Sure I'm much too old for courting.”

“Then what do you mean to do about... our... us?” Brienne cocked her head. Jaime Lannister was the first man she had ever really thought of a future with, although she agreed that she was not certain she meant to marry him. Yet, what else was there?

Jaime frowned. “Brienne, darling, I enjoy spending time with you... I do desire you... not that I mean anything improper by it, just....” While he might think himself an old man, he sounded like a fumbling boy. “Would you marry me even if I did ask?”

“Marriage?” Brienne tilted her head, let out a long sigh. “Is something I gave up on long ago.” What man would she have found to court her? Besides, she did not mean to settle for just any man. Perhaps it was silliness, she did had once wished for a happy marriage built on love and respect. But now, it would mean giving up her reputation and future she had carved for herself.

“Me too, I suppose.” Jaime rose and began to gather their picnic supplies back into the basket he had borrowed.

Brienne rose and shook out the blanket before folding it. “Why are you not married?” She cocked her head. He had said he'd had a lover.

Back to her, Jaime shrugged. “Father would never have allowed the match, and... after her any other paled in comparison.” He turned back with a half frown. “It's more complicated than that, but that's the simple answer.”

Together they unfettered the horses and loaded the basket and blanket onto their saddles. Brienne hoped that what they had done--had almost done--today did not have her blushing every time she looked at Jaime back in town.

#

A dance, a silly town dance, and Jaime should not really be worked up about such. He'd seen Brienne cross main street to the livery, likely to ready her horses for the stage that was leaving this afternoon. He hated that damn stage sometimes, always taking her away from him, and yet was proud of her for the dangerous work she handled so well with it.

“Brienne?” The livery barn smelled of hay and horses. He followed the grunts and voices deeper into the dim light until he found Brienne beside her large draft horses being helped by the livery master's boy. The brown paper wrapped package felt rough in his hand and he almost backed out of gifting it to her. “May I have a moment, Brienne, alone?”

Brienne paused and turned to him. “Sheriff Lannister.” The formality took Jaime back and he wondered if that picnic hadn't caused damage between them. He certainly hadn't meant to get so cared away with his desires, but she'd been there beneath him moaning like a woman and willingly letting him kiss her. Brienne finally turned to the boy. “Why don't you feed the horses out in the corral, Podrick.”

The boy glanced between them. He was not quite a man yet with a mop of dark hair and a slow awkward manner. An orphan the livery master had taken in a few years ago, for the help he provided mainly, because the boy did have a natural way with the horses and was a hard worker. “Y-y-yes ma-ma-ma'am,” the boy stuttered and then left them with one last glance behind him.

“Yes?” Brienne set down the brush she was using on the horses and tilted her head.

“You'll be back for the dance, right?” He had been told it was the event of the year usually. Yet, Jaime figured it was likely to seem simple and quaint compared to the grand balls his father had once hosted before the war.

“I should be, yes.” She looked a bit wary, unsure, and Jaime hated the awkwardness that existed between them.

“Good.” He shifted the package in his sweaty hand.

“It's rather the affair here.”

“So I've heard tell.” Now or never, he thought. “Which is why I intend to give you this.” He handed over the package.

Brienne stared at the brown paper and made no move to untie the twine that bound it. “What is it?”

“A... dress.” Jaime bit his lower lip. “I assumed you didn't have one.” Or at least he had yet to see her in more than her usual trousers and work shirt.

Brienne blinked and shook her head. “No. Yet, any dress from the mercantile--”

“Wouldn't fit you, which is why I had Miss Sarah make this one.” He swallowed. The widow Miss Sarah did whatever odd jobs she could around town to make enough for her broad of kids, which included the odd needlework. Although, Jaime had taken note of the clothing she made herself and her children from the scraps the mercantile owner sold her for discount. Still, he hoped he'd gotten the measurements right, had gotten the style Brienne might like correct.

Brienne stared at the package in her hand. “Why would I need a dress?”

He stepped closer. “It's a dance. Every lady desires to look their best for such.” Perhaps Brienne thought herself too large and mannish for a dress, yet Jaime knew that wasn't how she had always felt in her heart.

She lifted her eyes to him, a deep blue color full of emotion. Her chin wobbled a bit. “About the other day... the....”

Jaime swallowed. “I'm sorry, it was rather ungentlemanly of me.” He would have promised to not repeat it, however just standing here with her he was sure he couldn't promise such.

He couldn't put his finger on what it was, but his appreciation and desire for Brienne just kept increasing, in a way he had never really experienced before, in a way that scared him perhaps as much as it scared her. She'd asked the other day if they were courting, and as silly as the thought had sounded, whatever else were they doing? He'd given up on a wife and children who were truly his long ago, even his father had mostly given up at his point. And yet, if Brienne would say yes to being his wife, Jaime might just foolishly ask.

Brienne didn't answer just stood there with the package clutched to her chest.

“Could I kiss you?” he asked.

“What if Podrick comes back and sees us?” Her voice a whisper did not broker the resistance he thought it would.

Jaime leaned his head around to check in the direction of the outside corral. “Seems he's still busy, however, we can make it a quick kiss.” He gave her a smirk.

He expected a sigh or a huff from her in response, not for her hand to fist the collar of his shirt. She tugged him towards her where they collided in an awkward wrap of arms before their lips met. The kiss was long and deep and moist and left him wanting so many more. Brienne was the one who pulled away, eyes searching behind for the livery boy to return.

“Thank you,” Brienne said, the package held to her chest again. She gave a small, genuine smile, such a rare thing on her face Jaime felt himself returning it.

“You darling are most welcome.” He could drown in the emotions in her brilliant eyes and part of him wanted to say fuck what the livery boy might see and kiss Brienne again until they were both breathless. Instead, he took a step away, swallowed and tried to stop the hammering of his heart. “Just gift me with a dance.” He meant to smirk with the remark but failed doing so. With one last glance he tipped his hat and left Brienne to tend to her horses.

Chapter Text

Instead of placing the packaged dress from Jaime in her boarding room, she had taken it with her. She tried it on after her long ride, feeling foolish for so wanting to see how the dress fit. It was well made, not revealing but flattering, long enough and wide enough to be comfortable. Being a lady was about the last thing Brienne thought she would ever see herself as, yet Jaime was right part of her was still the girl who wished to be a well-dressed lady.

It was almost a week later when Brienne returned to Harrenhal. A woman and her children had caught the stage at the closet railroad stop. All of them attractive, the woman and her nearly grown daughter both gorgeous.

She pulled the stage to a stop and noticed that Jaime stood on the wooden planks at the edge of the street. For a moment she thought he was waiting for her, although he had never done so before. Then, the door to the stage opened and the gorgeous woman passenger stepped out, mouth covered with a gloved hand for the dust.

“Jaime, dearest,” she said in a thick, high-pitched Southern drawl as she strolled towards him. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him into a hug which he returned even if in part distantly. Brienne tried not to be jealous as she swung down from the driver's seat.

“Glad you made it safe, Cersei,” Jaime said. Brienne could hear the cold politeness in his voice.

The children were now greeting Jaime, calling him cousin. The girl, Myrcella, was much friendlier with him. The boy, Tommen, was stand-offish, uncertain what to make of the man his mother and sister clearly called dear family. It was not until she saw the boy standing beside Jaime that she noticed the similarity. Tommen's hair was a lighter golden color, his skin not as tanned, but they had the same noses, same cheekbones, same color eyes. It was too similar to be just family, and the boy looked nothing like any Baratheon he was supposed to be related to.

Yet, Jaime had mentioned only ever having been with one woman. Brienne took another look at the gorgeous Cersei with her pinned up blonde curls, clear skin, thin nose, high cheekbones, full lips and curves. Had this been the one woman Jaime had shared himself with, the cousin he had been raised with?

“Make sure the luggage is taken to the room.” Brienne turned to Cersei's voice as the other woman placed a dollar coin into her hand and smiled sweetly. Did Brienne look like a porter? She blinked back.

“Get up on top and I'll help you with the crates,” Jaime said, suddenly beside her. Cersei, head high, walked toward the inn. Jaime nudged Brienne again, and she nodded and climbed up to unstrap the two large crates.

They loaded Tommen with as many carpet bags as possible. Myrcella helped with some of the larger bags. Neither child grumbled when Jaime asked, such a difference from Cersei who had arranged the room and then climbed the staircase without a question that she would be doing none of the work. Brienne and Jaime handled the first of the crates.

It was on the trip alone for the second crate that Jaime finally spoke. “I only got the telegram she was coming this morning.”

Brienne said nothing. He had slept with his cousin, had an adulterous affair with her, was he still doing so? Outside the door, Jaime set down the crate. He rubbed his palm with his stump and finally looked up at her. His blue-green eyes held worry, his mouth tightened, yet he did not speak. Brienne had so many questions, but her tongue stayed firmly in her mouth.

The room door opened and Tommen stepped out. “Do you need my help, cousin Jaime?”

“No, we can manage the rest,” Brienne said as she bent to pick up her end of the crate. Together they placed it in the room, quite likely the best that the small inn had to offer. “I'll leave you to visit with your family, Sheriff Lannister.” She dipped her head and turned to leave. As the door closed she heard Cersei already asking Jaime questions. Brienne returned downstairs to deal with her stage and horses.

She did not see Jaime again until the next morning. He had of course spent dinner and the evening with his cousins, or cousin and children.

He sat alone at a table in the inn's dining room. Brienne should wonder where his cousin and her children were, but instead she was only glad that he was alone. She sat in the seat opposite him.

“Are they all yours?” Her quiet voice still came out harsh and cold.

Jaime cocked his head, moved his mouth and narrowed his eyes. “Who?” he finally said.

“Your cousin Cersei's children.” Brienne made sure to keep her voice a whisper.

Jaime still glanced about the empty room. He frowned. “Not the oldest, Joffery.” Meaning the others, Tommen and Myrcella had both been fathered by him, despite his cousin being married and family.

“Does Robert know?” Brienne cocked her head. She had never meet Robert Baratheon in person, although she knew something of the large man who overindulged in life from his reputation and Renly's stories.

Jaime scoffed, and leaned forward so they could talk even quieter. “If he did, I'd be dead, and they as well, likely.”

Brienne frowned. She could not get herself to ask the rest. What did she mean to this man if he was still in an affair with his cousin? Did he love his cousin?

“We're done, me and Cersei,” Jaime answered for her.

“Then why is she here?” Brienne tilted her head.

Jaime shrugged. “She wants something. I don't know what yet.”

Something, something that she could not ask of him in a telegram or letter? Brienne frowned. “Does she mean to stay?” She did not truly know his cousin, and yet with her crates of baggage, her fancy dress and high society standards, the West did not seem a place she would enjoy.

Jaime gave a chuckle at her question. “I have no money to give her the luxury she desires. She'll be back to Robert soon enough.” There was sadness in his voice and Brienne tried to keep the frown at it from her face.

“It's complicated,” he said. He reached out and placed his hand upon hers. “I....” He glanced again around the room. “Not here. This afternoon. Can you get away to go for a ride?”

Brienne straightened up. “The stage leaves again at noon.” She almost took her hand from his. She had seen the charm he could have, although right now his actions seemed genuine.

“You'll be back for the dance though?” His face tightened, worry in his eyes.

“Yes.” Brienne's lips tightened. “It's just a quick ride over to Riverrun.” She dare not say she had been looking forward to the dance, to wearing the dress he had given her. What did any of it mean
now?

Jaime sighed, swallowed, yet said nothing.

“Enjoy your visit with your cousin.” Brienne shifted back farther, although she did not remove her hand from his.

That drew a short, sharp laugh from him. “Cersei is never enjoyable.”

“Then, perhaps the children.” His children, she silently added in her head.

Jaime frowned. He shoved his chair back and stood up. His half eaten breakfast remained on the table. Had she said something wrong? “I best need get some work done before I must entertain,” he said. Then, he paused. The hand he had taken from hers cupped her cheek and Brienne found herself looking into his steady gaze. “Be safe, Brienne,” he said, her name almost a sigh on his lips.

Her chest tightened and her breath quickened. She locked her jaw to keep her chin from wobbling like a silly girl. “I will... Jaime.” His name felt rough on her tongue.

He tried to manage a smile and failed. His hand finally slipped from her cheek. The silence lingered between them thick and pregnant, until he finally dipped his head and left.

Chapter Text

Jaime walked across the dusty main street already bustling with the day's activities. He knew the weight on his chest had nothing to do with Cersei, although he would not survive the next days with his dear cousin if he thought of Brienne.

“Your cousin's upstairs in your room.” Bronn, his deputy, lounged in a chair, crossed feet propped on a desk. He gestured to the back door leading to the stairs.

Jaime cocked his head and kept a frown from his face. “Which cousin?”

“Blonde one.” Bronn paused in cleaning the pistol in his lap.

Jaime cocked his head farther and glared a bit. Of course they were blonde.

“The young, pretty one,” Bronn smirked and gave a chuckle. Jaime stuffed down the remark he wanted to give the other man about leering at Myrcella, his...

“Thank you,” Jaime said instead and strolled past.

Of all of them, Myrcella was the one he most would want to talk to. Still, he paused at the foot of the stairs. It was hard to not remember her as a girl, not even as tall as his waist, with a head of golden curls and a smile smudged with sweets. Yet, she was almost a grown woman now, as gorgeous as her mother. He swallowed and then mounted the stairs.

Myrcella rose from the single chair in the small room as he entered. She wore a well made yet simple cotton dress. Her curls were pinned up atop her head, surely with much care.

“May we talk?” she asked. There was little of the South in her accent, and yet not a great deal of Robert's Boston either.

“Certainly.” Jaime glanced about the room, yet he had nothing to offer to entertain. In truth there was little inviting in the small room: a chair, desk, bed, nightstand, chest with a few clothes and a handful of books on the desk. He gestured for her to sit again, and took a seat upon the bed opposite. “What did you wish to talk of?”

Myrcella resettled herself in the chair, smoothed out her dress. “I know who you are.”

Jaime cocked his head.

“About you and mother,” she continued.

His throat tightened. Just what did she think she knew about him and Cersei? Once many winters ago when she was a child he had imagined she was his, yet she was not, and never would be. “What about me and your mother?” his voice sounded steadier than he felt.

“I know you had an affair,” her sweet voice was steady. “That you... I know you're my father, and Tommen's.”

Jaime stood and paced to the one small window. He could ask how she had discovered such, yet he knew what a smart girl she had always been. He frowned, back still turned, struggling with what words to give.

“In truth, I'm glad you're my father.”

Jaime turned back at that, swallowed at the composed young woman he had somehow had a part in creating.

She gave a half smile and shrugged a thin shoulder. “I just wanted you to know, that I knew.”

He returned to the bed and sat down. “And?” He rose an eyebrow.

Myrcella pinched her lips and straightened her back a bit. “Mother... denies it.

“Of course.” He narrowed his eyes.

“You don't deny it?” Myrcella cocked her head, waited.

Jaime shifted forward. He meant to place his hands upon his knees, except the stump of his right slipped and he withdrew it back to his lap. If Myrcella noticed she didn't show it. He looked across to her, to an echo of his own eyes, so full of questions. He remembered the shock the first time he had seen her as a toddler. There in a miniature version of Cersei's face had been his eyes staring back at him.

“What do you want to know?” he finally asked.

Myrcella let out a soft sigh. Her face scrunched in thought and she spent a good deal of time staring at the floor. “Why?” eventually came her reply.

'Because I loved Cersei. Because I was a young fool who thought she did the same,' he thought, but did not say. Instead he told her, everything. Tyrion knew who Myrcella and Tommen were to him, however they had never spoken of such. It was refreshing to get all the words out, his past mistakes laid before them both. Myrcella he had never intended to father, yet it was hard with her sitting before him to fully regret the mistake. Tommen, sweet Tommen, Cersei had so wanted another child and Jaime had been unable to deny her.

“I remember some of that winter in Virginia.” Myrcella smiled. Cersei had claimed to Robert she meant to escape the snows, while instead she had spent the season having Jaime try to father a child.

Jaime found himself smiling back. He remembered as well, tired Myrcella drowsing on his chest in the evenings. Cersei in his bed each night. For a time he had pretended they were his family, until Cersei packed back up to return north, another of his children he would never know in her belly.

“I don't know what she wants of you,” Myrcella said, and did not have to mention she spoke of Cersei.

Jaime nodded, tightened his lips. Certainly nothing good if she did not wish to share it with the children.

Myrcella sighed. “Father... Robert.” She paused and shook her head, a sad little frown upon her pretty features. “The war certainly did not better his moods.”

Jaime's chest tightened. Robert Baratheon was a violent man, especially when drunk, something he'd heard the man had taken up even more in the war and since. It was not the first time he had worried for Cersei's safety. He knew what a hateful woman she could be.

Myrcella stood and straightened her dress. “I should likely be going, check that Tommen hasn't gotten into any trouble.” Her tone said she had told him too much with the last, and it scared him more for what abuse Robert might have done.

Jaime rose and walked her the short distance to the door. “Myrcella, you know you and Tommen would always be safe if you came to me.” He certainly had not been their father, and whatever pain he felt at having left them to Cersei's husband to fill the role he tried to keep buried.

She gave a small smile and nodded. “I know.” She rested a hand upon his chest. “For what we spoke of, thank you...”

“Jaime, you should call me Jaime.” Not that it didn't hurt to say she needed to continue to deny who he was.

She nodded, her smile grew sad, her hand still warm on his chest. “Thank you, Jaime.”

He had long told himself he didn't love Cersei's children, that he couldn't love them. It was hard for him to truly believe that while standing before this smart, pretty girl he very much wished he could call his daughter.

“I'm sure you have much work, so until later.” Myrcella gave a last smile as she left.

Jaime felt like collapsing, or drinking, but she was right, he had work that did need tending to.

#

Jaime had to admit he had enjoyed reconnecting with Myrcella and Tommen, as much as he could and seem proper. Tommen he had last seen before the war, the boy still almost a toddler. Now he was a sweet boy in short breeches always looking for adventure and too quickly growing into a young man. Cersei, Cersei remained the same. He knew her, all her worst secrets and fears, and yet after what she had done to him during the war, perhaps even before, she felt too much a stranger.

He'd walked them all to their room at the inn and then crossed to the saloon to cover part of the night's work as he had left Bronn to almost all the work during the day. The moon was high in the clear sky when he returned to his room. He pushed open the door and fumbled with his gun belt before he noticed the dim glow of the gas lamp turned down low. Cersei sat in his bed, the covers to her breast, her shoulders bare. He tried not to wonder how long she might have been waiting for him.

He crossed to turn the lamp up higher. Cersei smiled. He recognized the hunger in her green eyes and he wondered how much of it was real. Wordlessly she let the cover drop to her waist. Her breasts were as he remembered, full and creamy white with firm pink nipples. She rose and the rest of her was as bare. Her hips full, legs shapely, her waist still narrow enough, the pale skin marred by the children she had born.

Whether he meant to deny her or not, his cock hardened. Cersei smirked as she strolled towards him. She placed one hand upon the center of his chest. “We've barely had time to... catch up.” The drawl in her voice seemed pure honey.

“Cersei...” He swallowed, stilled beneath her touch.

“I know you've missed me.” She tweaked an eyebrow and nuzzled his chin, her lips kissing along his jaw.

But Jaime hadn't missed her, not her drama and schemes and games, not even her warm beautiful body she pressed against him now. “Cersei.” He stepped back and placed his hand up to stop her, yet that meant his palm fell between her bare breasts.

While he faltered, Cersei surged forward, her lips on his, her hand at the hardness in his pants. Once, that would have been all he needed, a small display that she wanted him. How many other men had she seduced just the same? He untangled himself, not the easiest task one handed and trying to be gentle with her. He maneuvered to the bed and scooped to pick up the blanket she had let fall. She was on him again and Jaime shoved her away with the stump of his right arm. Cersei recoiled, a sneer on her face.

“Cover yourself,” he said, his voice harsher than he had intended.

Cersei frowned. “You know, Jaime, you're the only man I have ever really cared about.”

Jaime took another step back as Cersei draped the blanket partially back over her bare skin. “Perhaps.” Not that Cersei was capable of love in the way that normal people were. “Why have you come West?” He couldn't ask this of her in front of the children. If she came here tonight to seduce him, it only added to his belief she wanted something from him.

“Did you notice the bruises? Perhaps you'd like another look.” She kept her face solid as she opened the blanket. He'd been so taken by her bare skin he hadn't noticed the purple fading to yellow upon her hips and side and thighs. She slowly rotated to show him worse upon her back.

There was no need to say who had hurt her such, her dear husband Robert. All the marks were in places that clothing covered, of course. It surprised him that she had showed even him.

“Are you going to say that war changes men?” Cersei wrapped the blanket back around her, a sneer on her face. “Tell me to be patient with the monster that returned to me?”

Jaime leaned against the footboard of the bed and shook his head. “No.” Cersei had not been married but a few years when he had noticed a busted lip on her beautiful face. He'd wanted to kill Robert then, a younger more reckless and love stuck man than stood before her today.

“What do want of me?” he asked.

Cersei frowned. “Do I have to tell you?” 'Yes,' he wanted to answer, but kept silent. “Will it take something besides bruises for you to act against him? Need he turn on the children? Would bruises on sweet Tommen prove what a monster he has become?” She stepped closer, but did not move to touch him this time. “My dear Jaime, when we were younger, you spoke bold words to protect me.” The softness was again in her eyes, the honey in her words. And it dawned on Jaime what he asked of her. She wanted him to kill Robert.

“Run away,” he said. “You and the children. The South is in such ruins, you can make a new life. Tyrion will help with the money.”

She stood silent. Her hand fisted in the blanket covering her. He had offered such many times before, the two of them to run away, before her marriage to a man she didn't love, the day he had seen blood on her lip from Robert's action, when he'd gotten word she carried his first child. Cersei shook her head. “And give up everything I've worked for? Everything I've sacrificed for?” She sneered, anger flashing in her eyes. “Never.”

Jaime sighed and leaned back on the stump of his right arm. The money, it always came back to the money, the luxury Cersei did want wish to give up. “That's all I can offer. Run away. I will be make sure you and the children are safe.”

“You would go with us?” She cocked her head and raised a narrow eyebrow.

Jaime tightened his lips. He thought of Brienne. Could he give up her kindness for this hateful woman before him? For the children he'd had with her? He nodded. “Yes,” his voice crooked.

Cersei raised her other eyebrow. She stepped towards him, the blanket falling to the floor. “If you will do that for me, dear Jaime...” Then, she was between his legs, hands upon him. He swept them both into his one hand, her thin wrists held tight in his grip.

“No, Cersei.” Jaime shook his head. “This, us, is over.” She frowned, struggled. “Get dressed, and leave.” He stood and shoved past her, a bit rougher than he meant. He didn't look back to the sneer he knew her face held or the hatred in her bright eyes. He scooped up his gun belt and left. When he returned from the salon hours later after, his head a bit too fuzzy from whiskeys, Cersei was gone.

Chapter Text

Brienne had not even managed to cool down the team horses when Jaime found her in the livery. “Get something to eat, then we can take a ride,” he said.

She paused and looked up at him. He looked tired, worn. She finally nodded. “I will meet you here in an hour.”

Jaime leaned back against the wood of the stall. He opened his mouth but no words came out. Finally he dipped his head, and said one last word before leaving her, “Good.”

They rode in silence down to the stream he had taken her on their first ride. She waited as they dismounted, let the horses sip water and graze. Back turned to her, his words finally came. “Cersei has always been broken.”

Jaime turned back to her with a frown and gestured to a log. Brienne sat gingerly beside him. “She was three when she came to us, and in truth I don't remember a time without her. Her parents were brutally killed before her eyes in a robbery.” He shook his head, frowned. Brienne kept shock from her face. Knowing Cersei's past did not excuse her coldness now. “She's my mother's sister's only child, and Momma would not have her going to anyone but us. Cersei's not even a month older than me. Momma used to call us her twins.”

Brienne realized that if his mother had been close to her sister they would have shared the trials of pregnancy and motherhood together, over letters and visits.

“She clung to Momma with a fierceness. Would wake most nights screaming, and Momma took to almost sleeping in her room.” He frowned a sighed, his gaze on the gentle ramble of the brook. “Cersei was always reckless, distant. There are few people she truly cares for. Perhaps she was getting better... then Momma died birthing Tyrion.”

Brienne had been told before that Jaime's mother had died in childbirth. It was something they shared as her own mother had died of complications after birthing her younger twin sisters. While Brienne remembered nothing of her mother, Jaime held what memories he had of his mother close.

“After...” Jaime leaned forward and rested his hand and stump on his knees. While his left gripped his knee, his stump rested awkward and caused his shoulders to lean to the right. For a moment, Brienne imagined this man whole, younger. “Father has never been the same. Tyrion was cared for by our mammy, a wonderful woman who loved us as her own. But, Cersei...” In profile she saw Jaime tighten his lips. “Cersei thought I was all she had left in the world. We were inseparable.”

“She'd have nightmares and slip into my room in the middle of the night, curl herself into my arms, her curls on my cheek. There came a time Mammy said we had to stop, it was no longer proper for us to be sharing a bed. It only meant Cersei was careful to slip out of my room before first light.”

Brienne thought about Jaime and Cersei as not quite grown, wrapped in each other arms, thought about what might have become of such.

“Cersei was always jealous whenever a girl gave me favors. We had kissed since we were children, and it's hard to say when exactly what had been innocent was not anymore.” Jaime glanced at her, shame in his eyes. Whatever they might be by blood, they had been raised as siblings. “We were not children our first time to... yet we were too young. And after that, I had eyes only for Cersei.”

“Why did you not marry?” Brienne lifted her chin. They were only cousins, and such marriages were not unheard of.

“Father would never have allowed such.” Jaime shook his head. “He had kept Cersei, given her anything she desired, because he'd made a promise to Momma. Father intended to marry her to Robert Baratheon to seal business between our families, to allow father a foothold in Northern industry in case slavery failed.”

Brienne cocked her head. She thought about Jaime's father, ruthless enough to go behind his way of life to secure his wealth. Had he seen such strong writing on the wall about the failure of the South? But, also to have used his adopted niece as payment for such. “She allowed this? You allowed it?” She shook her head.

“The Baratheons are wealthy, too.” Jaime frowned and shrugged. “Robert might be a drunk womanizer, but he has kept Cersei in every luxury she desires. She would not give up what Robert or Father gave her, not even for me.” He let out a long sigh and a deep sadness showed in his eyes. Had he tried to talk Cersei into eloping, into running away?

“And the children?” Brienne cocked her head and tightened her lips. Did she truly want to hear how he had fathered children in an adulterous affair?

Jaime told her how the affair had begun at Cersei's wedding, both of them thinking they could keep each other despite Cersei's marriage. Although, Cersei, of course, moved to Boston with Robert, while Jaime stayed in Virginia. Years later, Jaime had visited Cersei when Robert had been called away on business. Left alone they had been braver than usual. Jaime claimed he hadn't meant to father a child, yet months later Cersei's letter had implied he had done exactly that. He told Brienne how he had been in denial of the reality until he had finally meet Myrcella when she was a small child and seen for himself he could not deny she had to be his not Robert's.

It had caused Jaime at least to be careful after. Cersei had several miscarriages, all Jaime claimed had been Robert's children, and then she lost an infant son, a tiny raven haired child that surely had been Robert's too. A few years later, Cersei had wintered in Virginia, convincing Robert it was to escape the snows, and had asked Jaime to give her another child, this one healthy. Brienne could tell it was not something that Jaime could have denied Cersei, and so he had laid with her for months before she returned to Boston pregnant with his child. Robert, it seemed, was oblivious to it all, thinking only that the children favored Cersei. Although, Jaime admitted he hadn't seen Robert since before the war, meaning Robert had never seen Tommen as a boy next to Jaime, the man who certainly looked more than his cousin.

“You love her?” The growing summer heat almost took away her soft words. Did Brienne really wish to know the answer to this?

Jaime sighed and shifted on the log such that he sat sideways and faced her. “I've always loved her, but...” He shook his head. “During the war, likely well before, I was not the only man she had affairs with.” Cersei was a gorgeous woman in a loveless marriage, it did not surprise Brienne that even if Jaime had been the first, he was not the only man Cersei had been with.

“I gave everything that I could to her,” Jaime continued. A sneer covered his handsome features, and he shook his head. Given his wealth and place in society he should have married, should have children of his own. It dawned on Brienne that he had given that up for his secret love of his cousin. “And all I have been is a good fuck, someone to do her bidding.” He let out a long harsh sigh. “Cersei doesn't love anyone. She's incapable of loving.” There was such a sadness in his words Brienne almost reached out to him.

“What does she want of you?” she asked instead.

“The other night I found her in my bed, naked as her birth day.” He raised his hand, palm out as Brienne's eyes widened at the thought of beautiful Cersei seducing him. “I did nothing... not that I didn't...” Jaime left the rest unspoken, yet his eyes said it all, he had wanted Cersei still, even now. This woman who had Jaime, a man Brienne cared too much about ,so wrapped around her finger. “Nothing happened,” Jaime added. “She wanted me to kill Robert for her.”

Brienne's mouth dropped open. Cersei had asked her cousin and lover to murder her husband? She knew Jaime was certainly capable of doing the act, although a gun, his weapon of choice, was not secretive, not something that would allow him to avoid getting caught and charged.

“He abuses her and it seems it has finally gotten too much for her.” Jaime frowned at Brienne's reaction. “I told her no, of course. She can find someone else to fuck as payment for murdering her husband.”

“Why does she not run away?” Brienne tilted her head. She had heard rumors of Robert's temper, even from Renly himself, and Cersei certainly seemed a rather difficult woman, not that it would excuse Robert's behavior towards his wife.

Jaime gave a tight chuckle. “And leave behind the wealth and luxury?” He shook his head.

“Should you not warn Robert?” Brienne cocked her head. She owed nothing to Robert, but he was still Renly's brother.

Jaime chuckled again. “Robert and I have never been on good terms. He'd never believe me. Besides, Cersei did not exactly... speak her intentions.” She had implied her intentions and Jaime knew his cousin and lover well enough that he had understood her without words. A streak of jealousy coursed through Brienne as she stared at this man she felt she did not know as well as she thought she had.

Brienne watched him as he sat with worry and shame in his eyes, a slight frown on his mouth. She had spent the last few days already knowing some of this, and yet. Jaime reached out to her, and Brienne scrambled to her feet. For a moment, Jaime's hand hung in the air, before he withdrew it. No words or further explanations came from his frowning mouth.

Her heart hammered. She cared for this man, at the least. He had said it was all over with Cersei, and she did believe him. His past was such a tangled mess that she was not certain she wished to be part of whatever a future between them might have entailed. She had been alone before, she could do so again, even if her heart ached at the thought of such.

“I should be back,” she said, although in truth there was nothing she needed to be back for.

Jaime nodded, a frown on his face.

As Brienne turned to leave, Jaime said, “Brienne.” She fought the urge to just run, instead turned back to him. He had been honest with her today, she should at least hear him out.

“I've made a shambles of my past,” Jaime said. “But...” He stopped, his face pained, his eyes sad, yet no more words came.

Brienne knew that Jaime cared for her, as much as she cared for him. Yet, he did not word such, and that only left so many questions in her mind that perhaps it was not enough that he did care for her.

“Are you going to the dance?” Jaime finally asked.

Brienne cocked her head. She had been looking forward to such until Cersei had arrived in town. “I suppose so.”

“Wear the dress.” While his words were a statement, she could hear the worry in his voice.

She tightened her lips. At the least, she was plain. Beside someone as gorgeous as Cersei, Brienne would look just ugly. “I don't know... me and dresses...” She remembered the pretty dresses her father had got for her once to secure her a proper suitor.

“You'll look gorgeous in it.” His face and eyes lit up at just the thought and it took Brienne's breath away, how this man admired her in the face of the world thinking otherwise.

“I'll see about it,” she mumbled a reply.

A slight smile clung to his lips. “Good.” He nodded.

Brienne dipped her head. “Until later.” She turned, mounted up and left, still not certain what she felt about everything.

Chapter Text

Brienne heard the music and laughter from the dance before she actually braved stepping out to main street and the actual affair. A band with drums, fiddles and a harmonica played lively tunes. Couples danced in the middle of main street, which had been corded off to offer them space. Tables were set with pies and casseroles and other fare.

For the most part the townsfolk tried not to look too shocked at her wearing a dress. She smoothed down the cotton front and pleated skirt. The skirt was long enough to only show a bit of her normal well worn boots. The growing breeze of evening on her legs made her feel oddly exposed, though she showed no more skin that in her usual mens clothing.

She took a plate of food, listened to the music and tried not to look for Jaime among the crowd. Still, he was hard to miss once she did spot him, especially as he stood beside his cousin. Jaime wore ironed black trousers, a burgundy silk vest newer than his usual one, a starched white shirt and tie that matched his vest. His guns still hung on his hips.

Yet, Jaime's gorgeousness paled in comparison to Cersei beside him. She wore a gown of red silk with lace trim and a full hoop-skirt. Her long, blonde hair had been done in curls and then piled elegantly atop her head. She looked as though she had stepped right out of a high society ball from back East. Cersei smiled at Jaime with her flawless skin and powdered face. One of her hands in elbow length white gloves fell on his broad shoulder. Whatever her red lips said almost against his cheek, Jaime replied with an easy smile.

“They look quite the couple, don't they?”

Brienne looked beside her to find Myrcella, Cersei's daughter – Jaime's daughter, she silently thought. Myrcella's purple dress, while well made of fine fabric, was less elaborate than her mother's, with only a simple underskirt. Her blonde curls fell upon her narrow shoulders.

“I wouldn't worry about it,” Myrcella continued, “whatever they had has long been tainted.” This close to the young woman, Brienne noticed her eyes were the same shade as Jaime's. “Your dress is rather lovely, Miss Tarth.”

Brienne looked down at the plain blue cotton in a conservative cut. “Thank you,” she managed, not sure how truthful Myrcella's words really were. “Your dress is quite lovely as well.”

“Understated, Mother would call it.” Myrcella picked at the purple fabric. “She makes sure Father spares no expense at such.” Father, Brienne had to remind herself, being Robert Baratheon.

“I fought with your uncle in the war, with Renly. He was one of the best men I've known,” Brienne found herself saying.

Myrcella gave a sad smile. “Uncle Renly.” She sighed. “I miss him.” Brienne remembered Jaime saying Renly had been the one uncle who cared about Cersei's children, his children.

Brienne almost echoed Myrcella's words back. Yet, her unrequited longing for Renly had weakened, replaced by something else, something she had thought more real. She turned her attention back to the dance, back to Jaime and Cersei in the distance. Cersei was using all her charm to get Jaime out on the dance floor. The townspeople parted as the cousins finally took to the floor. Then they fumbled, as Cersei seemed unwilling to hold his missing right hand, and her holding his left seemed awkward to them both.

“He's rather fond of you,” Myrcella said besides her, startling Brienne from her thoughts.

“Whom?” Brienne asked.

“Jaime.” A small smirk twitched on Myrcella's lips and the expression looked so much like Jaime's.

He might be fond of her perhaps, but compared to the gorgeous Cersei he had a past with...? “Perhaps,” she managed to say. Even with slightly faltering steps, Jaime and Cersei were glorious together, as if taken from an antebellum ball. The rest of the town was as mesmerized as Brienne herself. How could she ever compete with something like that, with that connection and history, even if Jaime said things were over with his cousin.

Brienne was just about to grab another plate of food, when the music shifted and Jaime strolled over to them. On the make-shift dance floor the mayor, a married man, had asked Cersei to dance. She gave a passing frown to Jaime's retreating back before turning all her charm on the mayor.

“You wore it,” Jaime said. Sweat dampened his forehead and his cheeks were rosy from dancing in the lingering evening heat of summer. It took nothing away from his handsomeness as a wide smile filled his face.

“Yes,” Brienne managed. Her hand went to flatten the front of the dress again. “You did ask me to.”

Jaime nodded. “Thank you. It looks good on you.” He cocked his head, assessing the dress, his smile not faltering. Brienne tried not to think how he might have known her measurements well enough to make the dress fit so well.

Myrcella lightly cleared her throat. It drew both Jaime and Brienne's attention to her. “Myrcella, dear.” Jaime reached out his hand and took hers to give it a light kiss. “You look lovely, as always. Where's Tommen?”

“Off playing with the boys somewhere.” Myrcella waved a hand to the outskirts of the dance. “Likely getting his nice suit dirty.” She gave a light chuckle. Jaime shook his head, but not in any way indicating he might be upset by such. “Mother seems to be entertaining herself.” Myrcella gestured to the dance floor where Cersei continued to dance with the married mayor.

Jaime cocked an eyebrow, but said nothing. Brienne thought about commenting on Cersei's beauty and dress, but thought better of it. Did she really want to see any positive reaction from Jaime about his cousin and past lover?

The music began to segue to the next song. Jaime turned to Brienne and slightly dipped his head. “Brienne, darling, may I have the pleasure of the next dance?”

Her heart skipped a beat and her palms began to sweat. The dim light hopefully hid some of her blush. Part of her wanted nothing more than to dance with this handsome man before her, for him to treat her as the lady he wished to, yet, Brienne found herself shaking her head and frowning.

“I'm afraid, Jaime, I am a rather horrible dancer.” A memory sprang into her mind of dancing confidently as a girl with her father, twirling about their parlor as she held tight to his large hand. But, she was no longer that girl and in truth had likely not been as graceful and certainly not beautiful even as that girl.

Jaime frowned at her, opened his mouth to protest. Before he could find his voice, Myrcella still beside them, spoke up, “I'd be honored to take this dance, Jaime. If you would have me.” She gave him a sweet and honest smile.

“Certainly, dear Myrcella,” he replied, all Southern politeness. They barely acted like family, much less father and daughter.

Jaime led Myrcella onto the dance floor. He and Myrcella did not have quite the same grace or familiarity as Jaime did with Cersei. Yet, they seemed more relaxed with each other. Myrcella held his left hand and his stump fell to her waist. Whatever they chatted about while they danced caused them both to smile, an echo of each other. At least, Brienne had no reason to be jealous of the younger woman. She wondered what Jaime must feel, to have only a few moments like this one to share with his daughter.

Brienne need not worry that Jaime ask her again to dance, Pia asked him after and then a few of Pia's girls before Jaime got pulled away by Bronn for actual law keeping. Perhaps she should have regretted agreeing to not dance with him, but just the thought of the shocked looks of the townsfolk made her tighten her lips and know she had picked correctly.

Cersei seemed to charm her way among the men while the townswomen chatted amongst themselves with eagle eyes on her. It was late when Cersei finally took note of Brienne and strolled over to her, her curved hips swaying with the wide hoop skirt.

“What a lovely dress,” Cersei said with a small cutting smile on her ruby lips. There was no mistaking the 'lovely' made fun of Brienne's plainness.

“Nothing compared to yours,” Brienne replied, the polite manners of high society surprisingly returning easily.

“Why thank you.” Cersei preened as her words almost dripped with sugar. “It's a rather old thing, and the travels surely did not do it well.” She pulled at a bit of the almost sparkling white lace. Both statements Brienne assumed were false. She doubted the dress was all that old, not that Brienne had kept much to fashion back East to tell.

“Whereabouts are you from originally, if I may ask?” Cersei tilted her head up to look at Brienne, who towered more than a head over her. Odd, Myrcella was of the same height, yet Brienne had felt less strangely tall with the younger woman. Cersei's beauty had began to fade, like her cousin gray had began in her hair and lines around her eyes and mouth. Brienne wondered how gorgeous Cersei must have been as a younger woman.

“I hail from New England, originally.” Brienne tightened her lips. “Rhode Island.”

Cersei humphed and nodded. “Yes, I hear it now in your accent.” She smiled. “Did the East rub you so badly you ran away West? To live as a man?” Cersei raised her eyebrows with mock concern.

Brienne held herself even taller. Because what else would an ugly girl, of high society or not, have but to run away to where they cared not about a woman's looks? Brienne made herself take a deep calming breath before replying, “I do a good and necessary job here. And there is certainly nothing wrong with valuing any person for their abilities.”

Cersei rolled her eyes and huffed. “Perhaps. How does one even live here, much less wish to stay?” Her gaze went to Jaime far off in the distance talking to some of the older boys of the town.

Brienne knew Jaime loved the West enough he was never going to return home, even if he loved Virginia. “There is a beauty to the... newest of it... the camaraderie.” To being a part of something positive that was bigger than oneself.

Cersei shook her head at Brienne's words. “Nonsense,” she spat out.

Just when Brienne was about to forcefully deny such was the case, Pia appeared beside them.

“Brienne, dear,” Pia asked, lifting her head to smile at her, “would you be so kind as to help my girls with taking in some chairs?”

In fact, Pia's 'girls' were carrying chairs that had been used for the night's event back into the saloon. They needed little actual help, but Brienne nodded. “Yes, of course.” She dipped her head to Cersei as they parted ways.

After they were out of Cersei's ear shot, Pia said, “Damned pompous Southern fool,” with a good deal of a Southern accent herself. “I wouldn't worry much about that trash.” She gave Brienne a quick wink as they both picked up chairs.

Brienne tightened her lips, because she had spent the night rather worried about Cersei, about what power she still held over Jaime. “Perhaps,” Brienne managed to reply.

“No man goes and buys a girl a pretty dress unlessen he likes her,” Pia said, this time nodding her head towards Jaime.

Brienne remembered the day they first kiss, how in the chill winter wind she had stated he could have any woman he wanted, and his clear reply that she was the only one he wanted.

“Don't go holding the past against a being.” Pia's words drew Brienne back to the moment. She placed down the chair she had carried and followed the other woman outside to retrieve another. Jaime, Brienne realized, Pia spoke about Jaime and his past with Cersei. Yet the other woman was here, so was she truly in the past? “Most men are fools most of the time,” Pia continued saying. “The trick is finding one in the moment when they aren't fools.” Again, she winked at Brienne.

“Perhaps,” was all Brienne could reply.

Chapter Text

Jaime finally returned to the dance. The moon hung high in the clear night sky and the dampness of the summer night had almost faded away. Damned boys just having fun, and perhaps he should be glad that had been the big need of his services tonight.

Few people lingered and the band played soft and slow tunes. It matched the slightly drunk movement of much of those dancing. Surprisingly, Brienne had not yet fled to the safety of her boarding room for the night. Instead, she chatted with Myrcella, almost a smile on her wide lips. Brienne looked up before Myrcella as he approached.

The dress, simple as he had made it, really did her figure service, showing off her slight curves in a proper way. The moonlight shimmered on her pale hair. Her bright eyes glimmered. She'd combed through her hair and perhaps it was longer, dipping in a swirl at the nape of her neck. She was beautiful in a way Jaime had never really seen before, in a way he increasingly realized he admired, even more so in comparison to Cersei's blinding, but empty, beauty.

“Evening, ladies,” he greeted. Brienne blushed, but Myrcella just smiled and nodded her greeting.

Myrcella glanced between them, then stepped away. “I should go find Tommen. Call it a night.” She almost winked at Jaime as she turned to leave and he just barely managed to keep a frown from his face. Were his feelings that obvious?

Then, he was left just he and Brienne. The dark of night hid them better than before, and the emptying crowds made the moment seem more intimate. Jaime swallowed. “Dance with me?” His voice came out gravelly. Brienne blushed deeper and clenched her jaw, yet she nodded, perhaps before she could think better of it. Damn, the woman, Jaime thought, he felt like a green boy, his palm sweaty, his heart racing.

They made their way to the dance floor, such as it was. Jaime reached for her right, as he had danced with everyone tonight, but Brienne had already taken his stump into her left.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, glancing at the stump in her hand. “Best to keep to how I was taught.” Worry filled her eyes.

“It's fine,” he croaked out. Something in Jaime's chest plummeted, not from disgust, but with such feeling it almost drew him to his knees. She saw him, complete as he was, scars and past, just him.

The music was slow and they swayed for a moment before Jaime wrapped his hand around her hips and drew her closer to properly dance. Brienne was more graceful than she spoke of, her bulk moving with ease against him. Jaime wondered if they could remain in this moment forever. He dipped his head and pressed his lips ever so lightly on the steady pulse at her neck. Her hand on his shoulder gripped tighter.

“Come to my room tonight,” Jaime whispered into her ear.

Brienne drew back, her feet stilled, her eyes wide. “Jaime...”

He shook his head. “I meant no... I mean I don't..., well I do, but I meant it not to have anything to do with...” With how much he did want and desire her, something she surely knew. But, he spoke the truth, his request oddly had nothing to do with such.

“I should be going.” Brienne tugged herself away from him and stumbled backwards a few steps before turning to flee.

Jaime raced to catch up to her longer strides. He caught her wrist as she turned a corner into the dark alley leading to the boarding house. “Brienne, stop.” She paused a moment, her muscles tensed to further flee. “I love you,” the words spilled from his mouth before he thought ill of speaking them.

Brienne's eyes widened further and her chin actually wobbled a might.

“I really meant nothing unbecoming,” Jaime continued, unable to stop now that he had begun. “I just want to hold you, clothed is fine. I just... I don't want this feeling I feel to go away, ever again.” His words ended softer than the thudding of his heart in his ears.

“Love?” Brienne stood stock still. “But, Cersei?”

“Fuck Cersei.” Jaime shook his head. “Whatever I've ever felt for her is like a dwindling candle in comparison to the blazing sun you make me feel.” He bit his lip at having waxed so poetical.

Brienne shook her head, scoffed. “Who knew you were such a romantic, Jaime Lannister,” she said in her clipped accent.

Jaime gave a wide, genuine smile and shrugged a shoulder. Perhaps he'd always been a romantic, tied to someone who never truly reciprocated the feeling. “Guilty as charged.”

“The whole town will talk about it, about us,” she whispered.

Jaime smirked and stepped closer, backing her gently against the hardwood of a building. “Then, let them. Who saw you tonight in that dress and is gonna still deny you're a woman.”

She tightened her lips. “Plenty.”

Her doubt tugged at him. He wrapped his shortened arm around you. “I don't care what they think, about you, about me, about us.”

A half smile attempted to tug at the side of her lips. Still, she shook her head. He leaned up, still an odd feeling to have to lean up to kiss a woman, and graced her worried lips with a soft kiss. “I love you, Brienne Tarth, you and only you, no matter what anyone else thinks. If you'll have me, that is?” Jaime waited with baited breath.

Brienne finally nodded, dipped her head as a blush spread on her cheeks.

“Come to my room tonight,” he whispered for a second time, his lips upon her long neck. He'd always been better with actions than words, and he meant for his actions to show her how he felt, to wipe again any doubts.

#

Come to Jaime Lannister's room, Brienne thought. She did still trust this man. Too big a part of her had to admit that she desired him too. She swallowed and tried not to think about how close Jaime leaned against her.

He was charming, but Brienne had known that since she'd met him, his words as sweet as his Southern accent could be. She pinched her lips together, tried to repress the sigh in her chest. She had given up on this, on being womanly, on having a man desire her, long ago, yet Jaime Lannister made her want it all again. She agreed with him, she did not desire this feeling to end either.

Jaime cocked his head. “So, what's your answer, darling?”

Curse the man, she thought, as the end of darling dripped off his lips.

“We could merely talk to dawn if you wish,” Jaime added.

Brienne scoffed. “We both know we will not be merely talking.”

He cocked an eyebrow, but frowned. “I will do nothing you do not desire, on my honor.”

Nothing she did not desire? She stopped the second scoff from escaping as a blush rose on her cheeks at just what all she desired him to do.

He took her hand, and when he began to walk, Brienne followed him. They took the back alley to the back door of the sheriff's office. “Are you sure?” he asked her one last time as his stump rested on the wooden door.

Brienne swallowed down the nervousness in her stomach and nodded. “Yes,” she managed to say.

He nodded once in reply and pushed open the door. As they passed the hallway to the office, moans and sighs echoed. Jaime cocked his head and raised an eyebrow. Together they peeked around the corner. Brienne's eyes widened. In side view, Cersei lay upon a desk, the deputy Bronn before her askew hoop skirt. A sliver of his bare backside showed from his lowered pants, one of Cersei's pale legs, covered with a silk stocking, perched wide on the desk edge. Their moving hips, moans and panted breaths left little doubts about their actions.

“Well, I'll be.” Jaime started to chuckle.

Brienne cuffed him and shoved him up the stairs before either Cersei or Bronn could notice them. As she shut the door behind her, Jaime kept up the laughter. Brienne frowned.

“Should you not warn your deputy about her?” Brienne asked.

Jaime shook his head as his chuckles finally lessened. “Oh, there's no way in hell Bronn is gonna go and kill anybody for her. No matter how sweet her words or her fucking. Don't you go worrying about that.”

Brienne's frown deepened and she turned away to survey Jaime's room instead. Despite all that they had shared over the last several months, they had never before been to each others' rooms. Overall it was sparse and she reasoned it possible that almost all the room contained had come in the large carpet bag she saw beneath the single bed. There was a lamp, a small dresser and a desk with a chair. She crossed and read the spines of the few books, a worn volume of Shakespeare and a Charles Dickens novel.

She turned back to the now closed door to see Jaime hanging up his pistols. She had left hers in her room, thinking wearing them in the dress would look even odder than her wearing the dress alone. Instead she had a small single shot she used as a backup in her boot.

Jaime leaned against the desk, head cocked, a gleam in his eyes.

“You look very handsome tonight,” Brienne said. “I'm not sure if I have mentioned such yet.”

Jaime struggled to loosen the frills of his tie. He shrugged out of his vest and placed it carefully on the back of the chair at the desk. “I really do like the dress, and am glad you wore it.” He gave a slight smile.

Brienne blushed. “Thank you for it.” Her sweaty palms clenched in the blue cotton of the skirt.

Jaime shoved off the desk with his stump and hand to cross to where she stood in the middle of the small room. “Damn, why do I feel so nervous,” he whispered as he neared.

Brienne shook her head. She knew herself exactly why she was so nervous. She had been around enough to know good and well what could go on between a man and a woman, even if she had not done so herself.

“I meant what I said earlier, I do love you,” he said.

Brienne gave a small smile. It was nice to hear the words. “I love you too, Jaime.”

He gave a wide smile in reply. His hand reached between them and fumbled at the buttons of the dress. “Nothing has even been more serious, and I just don't want to somehow screw this up tonight.”

She gave her head a slight shake. “Nothing you could do would screw this up.” She replaced his hand with her own and undid the buttons one by one down to her waist.

“I would marry you,” he said. His hand started on the buttons of his own shirt. “I'd get down on one knee here and propose if I thought you would say yes.”

“I would not.” She sighed. “Not that...”

“I get it.” He nodded and gave a small smile.

Brienne started on the buttons of his shirt, and drew it off his shoulders when she'd finished. Given the heat of summer, underneath he wore no undershirt. She found her fingers trailing along the muscles in his chest and down his stomach. She had seen him once, but it was different now, having his warm flesh beneath her fingertips.

Jaime pulled apart the top of her dress, his hand running on the cotton chemise beneath and cupping one of her small breasts. She gulped a bit, wondering if it was enough for him. He gave her a broad smile, before leaning in to kiss her deeply. Brienne was certain her blush likely reached from the tip of her head to the ends of her toes. She returned his kiss, their lips dancing against each other, tongues exploring. What nervousness she had slowly began to fade away.