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Red Flood

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“And you are sure you don’t need another cooling bag?”

“I just had a ngew onge five mingutes ago. Stop fussing.”

“Make no mistake, wench, I am not fussing, I am planning a murder,” Jaime Lannister announces, looking around the packed ER waiting room, arms crossed over his chest, knee bobbing relentlessly, wanting to jump out of his skin any second now because of just about everything in this situation.

Murder?” Brienne, his colleague, repeats, adjusting her grip on the bloody tissue she keeps holding to her nose, which is the source of most of Jaime’s anger and reason for his murderous plans.

“It may take some preparation, but I am getting there eventually,” Jaime answers, slowly nodding his head. “I just need the basics. A gun you can’t trace back, a car that doesn’t run under my name, something to remove the fingerprints with, and someone to give me an alibi. This is just a matter of logistics.”

Brienne only ever rolls her big blue eyes at him, even though that makes her face hurt even more.

Apparently, team-building exercises can be more dangerous than most people would think.

Though Brienne is not entirely sure what bore more danger – the team-building exercise that got her here or Jaime’s glowering at an enemy that is only there inside his mind right at this moment because the person who led to this situation is not even in the ER with them.

At some point Brienne reckons she should have listened to her gut-feeling, which was telling her quite strongly that this whole team-building exercise was not going to do her any favors. While Brienne is on friendly with most of her colleagues, she does not consider herself being friends with any of them. The young woman rather keeps to herself and wants to do her job instead of meddling in the personal affairs of her co-workers. She was never the kind of person looming by the coffee machines for bad coffee and the latest gossip. If she had had any interest in this sort of thing, Brienne would actually bother reading this Varys Whispers magazine more often to catch up on all of the gossip that keeps the capitol talking. By contrast, Brienne rather wants to focus on work, on doing her job outright – and dodging the verbal bullets coming from her co-worker Jaime.

So perhaps Brienne really should have just called in sick, considering that now she is sick, that is hurt, because of this stupid event. However, honor compelled her, or rather, Brienne is not fond of telling lies, even if for something as trivial as escaping a stupid team-building exercise.

As Jaime likes to put it, she would have it far easier if she learned the arts of lying at last on some occasions, but Brienne can’t seem to bring herself to it, which is why she keeps being stuck in situations she would rather not be in – as is already proven by the circumstance that she ends up working in a team with Jaime Lannister over and over of all people in the entire company.

Because she can’t bring herself to lie to get herself out of those situations, and Jaime seems to take his pleasure in the knowledge that she won’t make up some excuse just to escape his seemingly endless jesting at her expenses.

“You are being overly dramatic,” Brienne grunts, wrinkling her nose at the wave of pain spreading across her face at the wrong movement, all the while cursing at herself that she should try to bypass using it too much.

Brienne still dares to hope that her nose didn’t get broken. She had that a good number of times while still a girl, already far too eager to learn the arts of sword fighting when her abilities had not yet caught up to the passion, but the blonde woman couldn’t tell as she rolled on the grass and tears came to her eyes as pain spread across her entire face.

Never underestimate the ability of men overestimating their abilities and having a terrible, terrible aim.

“I am not being overly dramatic at all,” Jaime insists stubbornly.

“Of course you are.”

Brienne felt almost thankful that there was no trust-fall planned for the exercise, because she would not have looked forward to have people commenting about how she is too big as a woman or what not, of which, too, she had plenty enough throughout her life. Thus, having the colleagues stand in three circles to toss a ball around while following through with some nonsense routine of having to ask a question the person who then caught the ball was meant to answer seemed almost entertaining.

Until Jaime started playing dirty – and someone’s terrible aim had me roll in the dirt.

“And I think I am planning another murder if they don’t get a move here at last,” Jaime goes on to lament, his knee bobbing faster this time. “I mean, your face will soon look like you have won the Westeros Boxing Championship against the Mountain.”

“It’s fine,” Brienne argues, glad that she can get some more coherent words out if she speaks soft enough, though she hopes that this won’t result in yet another flood of red as it happened on the ride to the hospital when Jaime would not quit cursing about the security measurements of this event and that his father should see to it that the guy hosting those team-building exercises gets sufficiently punished for using balls “you could throw holes in a wall with!” Brienne just had enough and cursed at him to stop, only for the bleeding to start again and getting it all over the seat.

While Jaime said nothing about that, which Brienne was certainly expecting, this was the moment the young woman felt true shame wash over her. It’s one thing to get hit in the head because Edmure Tully is terrible in just about everything that he does, quite another to redecorate your colleague’s car in shades of red.

“Quite on the contrary, wench. Nothing about this is fine,” Jaime retorts.

“I didn’t ask you to drive me, I didn’t ask you to stay. So you are not murdering any of the staff. You can just as well leave if it frustrates you so,” Brienne argues, holding the tissue a little tighter to her nose, but thankfully, her nose remains dry for now.

No, she actually suggested that someone just calls her a taxi, so not to disrupt the team-building exercise any longer, or rather, to finally turn all attention away from her. After all, Brienne would rather not have any so such attention regarding her person. She found it humiliating enough to get hit in the face like that, even though Brienne prides herself being very athletic and being a very good catcher. But that is the thing when you expect to only have to watch out for a ball thrown in your circle, and not the one furthest away from you. However, her suggestion was not heard of as Jaime wordlessly pulled her away from the scene and over to his car, not taking “no” for an answer.

“Oh, I am not leaving until I have seen an actual doctor around here. Gods know why we had to book the team-building exercise somewhere in the Outback of King’s Landing,” Jaime grumbles. “Next thing you know, you are receiving treatment from an auroch in scrubs or wake up on the ICU with your kidney removed because they misread it on the application form.”

“I dare doubt that – and when it comes to the team-exercise… In the brochure it advertised the nice countryside as a calming environment opposed to that of the companies,” Brienne recounts, which has Jaime turn to her with a grimace. “To get people out of their own comfort-zones.”

“You actually read that thing?” he asks.

Brienne shrugs at him. She had to do something to act as though she was busy while sitting in the meeting room where the team-trainers gave them a way too cheerful introduction of the merits of the program and how everyone is going to have “a super great time” and “loads of fun.” As the colleagues were pouring in, chattering and likely also gossiping – because they always are – Brienne did her best to stick her yet undamaged nose into the brochure.

She forgot to bring her book along, which normally plays to her advantage when she wants to leave no doubt that she is not up to conversation.

Not that Jaime ever pays much mind to that, though, Brienne thinks to herself.

Normally, Brienne would carry a book of her interest with her to the cafeteria as she sat there mostly by herself or otherwise absorbed into her own world, but once she started being teamed-up with Jaime, the man constantly pushed her book down to get her attention, demanded that she talks to him, or stole her fries.

In the course of the past months, Brienne brought books by less and less often, reckoning that it was no use anyway.

Yet, surprisingly, it worked today. Brienne supposes that it was because she chose a strategically wise position in the back of the room, so that by the time Jaime came in, seats were already taken up and she could act like being very much absorbed into the brochure.

He annoys her enough while around the office – and Brienne didn’t need that for the team-building exercise as well. Jaime tends to make a sport out of it to tease her on every occasion there is, taking great pleasure from annoying her so much that even the otherwise composed Brienne of Tarth loses it and snaps at him.

And just the day before the team-exercise, they had actually more of an earnest fight when Jaime just wouldn’t quit asking her about private matters that Brienne never felt comfortable sharing with co-workers, even less so Jaime Lannister. Which was the reason why she wanted to stay clear of the man as much as she could during the team-exercise.

Until he had to evade my circle, of course.

“Of course you read that thing, probably even memorized all of it,” he snorts, some of the tension leaving him at that. “I thought you were actually playing distracted – or trying to keep your most adored co-worker away from you. Because don’t make the mistake to think that I didn’t notice.”

Brienne rolls her eyes at him, though she admittedly feels a little caught at that. The fact that Jaime instantly sat done somewhere else without making eye-contact just once had her rather confident that he didn’t even so much as notice her, which made Brienne almost feel ridiculous for hiding away behind a brochure.

That was until we got into a circle and started playing ball, of course.

“Well, anyway… Maybe you are right about the murder. It might not be worth the effort… and thinking about it, if we do this right, we can make Edmure suffer for it, long and painfully, think about it,” Jaime ponders.

“It was an accident,” Brienne insists. While she doesn’t care too much about Edmure Tully, she is fairly certain that the man didn’t plot against her in that way. In fact, the man never struck her as a man of great planning skills.

“How are you so sure about that, though?” Jaime argues.

“That guy has the worst aim I have ever seen – and felt,” Brienne answers.

“But that may be what he wants you to think,” Jaime goes on. “Think about it.”

“Ngo,” Brienne says with more force, though that has her nose instantly clogged again, which reminds the young woman yet again that she has to be careful about that, even though she would love to scream some many times at Jaime for simply refusing to let it go.

“Haha, it sounds cute when you can’t get the ‘n’ sound right,” Jaime snickers.

“You laugh it up all you want, Lannister,” Brienne grumbles, pressing the tissue against her nose a little harder.

And here she dared to think for just a moment that her co-worker was actually more of a decent being than she took him to be.

“Tarth, you should be happy that you see me smiling, or else I would be back to planning murder,” Jaime tells her.

“The one who should be mad is be me,” Brienne argues.

She got hit in the face with a ball – not him.

“And since you aren’t, I am taking over the job,” Jaime says.

Brienne grunts at that. “Ugh.”

“Not so much through the nose or else you will do the red fountain again.”

Brienne already means to retort something, but then swallows that comment down, to instead add feebly, “About that… I’m sorry for the car.”

“It’s not like you can control that, can you?” Jaime chuckles. “Can you?”

She swallows. “Ngot really.”

“And hey, at least it’s Lannister color,” he jokes.

“Ngow you are making fun of me,” Brienne sighs.

And isn’t he always?

“It’s fine, trust me in this. I was well aware of the risk of the red flood when I got you into my car,” Jaime snorts. “But you know how it is with me. I have to risk maidens in need, even if they nosebleed all over my leather seats.”

“I still could have takeng a taxi,” Brienne argues, screwing her eyes shut for a moment.

“And what kind of a dick would I have been as a colleague for letting you drive away with a shady taxi driver to some shady hospital in the middle of nowhere?” Jaime huffs, shaking his head.

Brienne furrows her eyebrows. “The kind of dick for a colleague that is perfectly ngormal around the office?”

Brienne has no illusion about it that for most co-workers, the bare minimum of human decency can already be asked too much. She is well aware of the whispers behind her back – just like she is aware of the whispers behind Jaime’s back. After all, people still think of him as the “Kingslayer” for that turn-over of Targaryen Enterprises under Aerys when he worked for the company and exposed the man to the police for his illegal activities. Thus, the bare minimum does not necessarily include offering help or a ride to the hospital.

It didn’t go unnoticed by Brienne that quite a few of her oh so friendly colleagues had better to do than help her up, instead standing around, whispering as though she just turned contagious because of a nosebleed.

Though Brienne will then have to give Jaime that much: He was the first to rush over and help her up. Regardless of the fact that he then instantly started embarrassing her by shouting out insults at the organizers to get going and being all over Edmure for his terrible aim.

“Which is why that whole idea of team-building exercises was all kinds of ridiculous,” Jaime huffs. “A bunch of dicks is a bunch of dicks. That won’t ever become a flower bouquet but just a bunch of dicks stuck together with a bow on top.”

Brienne knows for a fact that Jaime doesn’t really like most other colleagues, particularly since businesses kept merging, which means that there are interns from all across the Seven Kingdoms now working at the company. While Jaime tends to have a way with the co-workers, being his usual oh so charming self, he once told her in private that he hates most of their guts.

“For Ms Brienne of Tarth?”

“Yes, that’s us!” Jaime calls out, instantly getting to his feet in one swift motion.

Brienne whips her head around at him – since when is it “us?” Jaime makes it sound like he is actually a family member or spouse, when clearly, he is not.

“Please follow me,” the nurse with clipboard in hand says, gesturing at the two to come along.

Brienne already wants to say something to Jaime that he may just as well wait in the waiting room, but then reckons that Jaime likely wants to get away from there, having spent at least ten minutes lamenting about just about everything in this room.

The floor is ugly. There are stains on the wall. Have you seen that guy over there? I surely hope that is just some nasty rash and not an early sign of Greyscale, because I don’t want to get yet another shot for that. The water disperser’s water is only lukewarm. The doors whoosh too loudly when they open. The seats are uncomfortable. That kid over there better use a tissue. That guy over there looks like he got something stuck in his ass, literally.

Those are some of the things Brienne still remembers from the ten-minute rant she had to listen to, though some of it may have escaped her eventually as she was busy pressing tissues and cooling bags to her face.

Thus, Brienne reckons that Jaime simply means to escape this personal hell, which is why she keeps quiet and simply follows the dark-haired nurse who shows them to a tiny room almost at the very end of the hallway. He drove her here, which is above the usual level of decency found around the office, so Brienne will give him that much.

And she doesn’t fancy having to give a statement if Jaime indeed followed through murdering someone.

“Just take a seat on the stretcher,” the dark-haired nurse says. “A doctor will come to you as soon as possible. We are sorry that things take so long today, but it always gets crazy around that season.”

Brienne nods her head slowly. “Thangk you.”

With that, the nurse is out again, leaving Jaime and Brienne to at least a less crowded room, though Brienne will have to admit, it still looks pretty shabby.

“I am kind of glad you didn’t bite your tongue, or else you would have a nasal voice with a lisp. I wouldn’t ever stop joking about that in a lifetime,” Jaime comments, walking around the room, inspecting the packages full of bandages, gauzes, syringes, and latex gloves.

“I am so blessed.”

“Innnnnndeed,” he laughs. “By the way, though?”

“Yes?”

“You actually didn’t answer my question back in the Circle of Doom.”

“Because I caught the ball and then got hit in the head by the one Edmure threw, you might recall,” Brienne retorts, suddenly feeling as though her entire face swelled up at the mention of this.

In the rush of blood on the grass, people talking, and Jaime dragging her to the next-best hospital, Brienne almost forgot about Jaime’s ongoing project of shaming her in public, but just almost.

“Well, you are no longer kissing the ground, so you might just as well answer me now. It’s not like we have much else to talk about.”

“What happens in the Circle of Doom stays in the Circle of Doom.”

“So you won’t answer my question?”

“I don’t see why?”

“Because that was the game. I toss the ball with my question right over to you and you have to answer it. I actually found that a rather fabulous idea, even though the rest of the event was total bullshit,” Jaime comments.

Brienne honestly felt like lynching him while in the Circle of Doom, because, of course, Jaime Lannister instantly used the opportunity to get into her circle, and catch the ball as often as he could. He answered even the stupidest and most personal questions the other colleagues dared to pose with a smile on his face – only to use the opportunity to ask her a question in turn, which had Brienne growl at him more often than not.

The Seven will know that she was actually tempted to throw the ball at his head, but Brienne thought better of it each time, instead tossing the ball to someone else, so not to give Jaime the chance for a rebound question.

“At least you had your dear fun.”

“Oh, you know I always have my dear fun when around you,” Jaime snorts. “And you have your dear fun when around me, you just don’t want to admit it.”

“I dong’t admit it because it is untrue,” Brienne grunts, wincing at the pull on her nose.

“You go on believing that. I am your only friend at the company.”

“You are also the only person at the company I once threw a stapler after.”

“It’s the office way of friendship bands – friendship staplers. Though I am glad you only hit me in the chest with it. I wouldn’t have fancied having the imprint of that thing on my handsome face for a week.”

“Are you suggesting that this here is karma, then?”

“No, it’s definitely Edmure’s fault,” Jaime huffs. “I still think you owe me an answer to my last question, though.”

“And I still think I don’t.”

“Maybe I am going to get lucky if the doc shoots you to the moon with some good old pain meds. And then I get all those sweet, little-big truths out of you, wench.”

“Don’t call me wench!” Brienne curses, her eyes widening as she can feel wet hot around her nose.

“Red fountain again? Maybe that should teach you to accept my wonderful nickname for you.”

“It’s a medieval ingsult,” Brienne retorts, blinking repeatedly as she can feel the wet, hot mass filling up the tissue yet again.

Jaime shrugs at her. “I like medieval insults, so what?”

Brienne just rolls her eyes at the man. Only Jaime Lannister would pick such an insult for her, likely because she once told him about how she does fencing during her free time, one of the few personal details she ever told Jaime about – and almost instantly regretted, as Jaime was head-over-heels with the idea to instantly start an “office fight” with rolled up copy paper.

“Need more tissue? We now have fancy gauze, even,” Jaime offers, gesturing at the lined-up boxes. Brienne shakes her head at him in return, wanting to bypass the “n” sound for “no” at least for until the bleeding slowed down again.

“That bad? Should I yell at the nurse to finally get that mysterious doctor?” Jaime asks, now an edge of worry in his voice that doesn’t go unnoticed by the tall, blonde woman. She shakes her head at him again, offering what she hopes to come across as a reassuring grimace, though Brienne can’t really tell because her entire face feels as though it belongs somewhere else.

“Edmure is dead, that much is for sure,” Jaime grumbles.

As if on cue, that is when the doctor finally makes his way inside. It doesn’t go unnoticed by Brienne that Jaime keeps studying the man as though he was about to interview new interns.

And for the record, Jaime loves to “annihilate them,” which means that he loves to torment them for the interviews, arguing all the while that this is the only way to prepare them for the torture awaiting them when forced to work under either Tywin Lannister, who can make the blood in your veins freeze faster than White Walkers likely ever could, or Cersei Lannister, a woman who considers wine a power food and enjoys bossing people around far more than the actual work the job comes with.

Brienne has thus seen it a good number of times when the potential interns stumble out of Jaime’s office, over with sweat, tears, if not both, and Jaime flashing them the brightest of smiles as they run for life.

“Good day, Ms. Tarth and… Mr. Tarth. Sorry for the delay, but things are really busy today. Once the weather gets better, people go out – and get hurt,” the dark-haired doctor says, offering a small smile as he disinfects his hands.

“He is ngot Mr. Tarth,” Brienne stammers, even at the risk of making the red flood go back to red fountain level.

“Hm? Oh, sorry, I thought you two were… never mind. I think there are more urgent matters,” the man laughs, gesturing at Brienne’s face.

“The name’s Jaime Lannister, by the way,” Jaime says with a kind of smile Brienne cannot quite put yet.

“Oh, Lannister as in the business tycoons with the lion in the banner?” the man asks as he puts on the gloves.

“Yeah, I am one of them,” Jaime confirms with a grin.

The doctor nods as he pulls up one of the chairs and sits down in front of Brienne.

“Alright,” he says. “What happened?”

“Edmure Tully’s inability,” Jaime huffs from behind him, arms crossed over his chest, leaning against the wall, though Brienne can see that against the odds of his posture, he is still rather tensed.

“What?” the doctor asks with a frown.

“A team-building exercise – I got hit by a ball. Edmure was the guy who hit me,” Brienne explains.

“Oh, you would have no idea how often we have people over from that organization ever since they opened up,” the man chuckles softly as he inspects her face with surprisingly feathery touches. “Just last week we had someone here.”

“See? I told you! We should be suing them,” Jaime tells Brienne, who only ever rolls her eyes at him in turn as the doctor has her face fixed between his hands.

“Are you still bleeding from that incident?” the doctor asks.

“It started again because I…,” Brienne wants to explain, but Jaime jumps in, saying, “She is easily agitated. Such short temper. And I keep telling her, Brienne, you have to calm down more. But does she ever listen to me? You bet not.”

Brienne glowers at him.

“So it didn’t bleed continuously,” the doctor questions, pulling her attention back to the physician instead of her oh-so-funny colleague.

“No, stopped after five minutes. Then started another time because she just cannot control her temper while on the ride,” Jaime says yet again before Brienne can answer the question, which has her narrow her eyes at him impossibly more.

It’s bad enough that she can’t talk properly because speaking too harshly will summon the red flood again, so Brienne doesn’t need Jaime answering the questions for her because he finds it funny to humiliate her even at a time such as this.

“Alright,” the doctor says, all the while probing at Brienne’s face. “Did you ever lose consciousness?”

“No,” Jaime answers for her – and Brienne hates it, truly hates it.

She doesn’t need a man to answer for her, even less so Jaime Lannister of all people in the entire world.

“Blurry vision, trouble hearing, issues with balance?” the physician goes on to ask.

“I can’t say for the blurry vision, but she heard me just fine and could walk to the car after a moment of recovery.”

“No blurry vision,” Brienne answers briefly, chewing on the inside of her cheek.

For a man who is considered by many a self-absorbed guy, Jaime proves that he is a very observant man, Brienne has to give him that much. Not that this is particularly new to her, considering that it wasn’t long into their work together that she came to realize how much Jaime picked up on by simply keeping his eyes open to his surroundings. The man doesn’t even have to ask for gossip. He will mostly guess who is hooking up with whom by simple observation. To this day, Brienne has no clue how he picked up on her favorite TV show without her ever making any specific mention of it, until one day during lunch, he was all giddy that they both enjoyed the same show.

“Were there issues with speech? Slurring or stuttering?” the doctor asks, pulling Brienne out of her thoughts and back to the tiny treatment room without air conditioning and her colleague looking all smug as he leans against the wall.

“No, her speech is always grammatically squeaky-clean, she is that kind of a perfectionist,” Jaime answers for her yet again.

The doctor takes out a small flashlight and waves it before her eyes a few times, then stuffs it away again before announcing, “Alright, no weakness in the forehead, eyelids, cheeks and mouth. Pupil movement is normal, so it’s looking good that you didn’t get yourself concussed or worse.”

“Lucky for Edmure,” Jaime mutters under his breath.

“Alright, now I would need to take a look at your nose to see whether it’s fractured,” the physician says.

Brienne carefully peels away the layers of tissue, praying to the Seven to spare her another red fountain, though the Gods seem to show mercy for once.

“I will move your nose now. That may hurt.”

The young woman gives a brief nod before screwing her eyes shut as the doctor starts to test for fracture. While Brienne can take pain better than most, as she started getting into fights with boys her age since an early age, facial injuries are always more painful than most.

“Good news, Ms. Tarth, it doesn’t seem broken,” the physician announces.

Doesn’t seem or isn’t? There is a difference in that as far as I am concerned,” Jaime jumps in, looking not at all pleased with that answer.

“It’s not broken, no worries, Mr. Lannister. It’s just bruised,” the older man answers, offering a calm kind of grin that seems to put Jaime even more so on edge, judging by the way he narrows his eyes at him as a result.

“Good. Just wanted to make sure,” Jaime mutters.

“I bet Ms. Tarth greatly appreciates the amount of care,” the doctor chuckles before turning his attention back to Brienne. “I will prescribe you something for the pain, and another medicine that will help reduce the swelling. I would recommend to you that you take it easy for at least a couple of days, ice the nose regularly. I dare say that you won’t have to bypass the ‘n’-sounds for much longer, though I recommend to you that you try to keep calm and your voice leveled for at least a couple more hours. I assume you have a GP to go to another time for a check-up that is closer to where you live?”

“Yes, yes,” Brienne answers quickly.

“Good,” the doctor says, removing his gloves and tossing them into the next best trash can. “I think you will do just fine, but it can’t harm to have another check-up. If you have another serious bleeding, you should go to your doctor or the hospital immediately.”

Brienne nods her head slowly. “Alright.”

“I would also say that you shouldn’t drive a car until the swelling has gone down because it may affect your vision if it gets worse, which it still may until the medicine starts to show effect,” the physician goes on to say, turning around on the chair to start scribbling on a clipboard.

“I will bring her home, no worries,” Jaime answers before Brienne can even attempt to answer.

“Well, then I suppose everything is taken care of. You can just hand in this slip of paper,” the doctor says, handing it over to Brienne, “at the counter at the end of the hallway. Then you will get the medicine.”

“Thankgs,” Brienne replies, making a face. The stuffed nose messing up her speech starts to drive her really crazy.

The doctor gets up. “Well, I have to be on my way again. We still have a packed waiting room. Good day, Ms. Tarth. Mr. Lannister.”

“Bye,” the two answer in unison.

And with that, the doctor disappears again. Jaime turns on the back of the heel to look at Brienne. “Well, no auroch in scrubs, I will have to give them that much.”

“I could have told the doctor myself wheng he asked me questiongs,” Brienne replies, pinching her nose a little harder, hoping that this will somehow achieve a change.

“Well, in contrast to you, I can make the n-sound without making it seem like I have my finger up my nose. I thought I was saving us some trouble, wench,” Jaime huffs. “But anyway, I reckon we should do as the non-auroch said, get the drugs, and get the Seven Hells out of here. Gods know what kind of bacteria and viruses fly around here without our knowledge. If you don’t watch out…”

“We have been there before,” Brienne sighs, suppressing the urge to smile at the fact that something as trivial as pronouncing words correctly finally works again.

“C’mon, let’s go, then,” Jaime says, waving at her to follow. Brienne gets up, having no intention to stay for longer than necessary either. Before heading out she quickly dumps the bloody gauzes in the trashcan, glowering at Jaime when he takes the entire package along.

“We may need some for the car ride. And they have at least ten packages on the shelf,” Jaime argues. Brienne lets out a sigh as she takes out new gauzes to hold to her nose, hoping that those will stay clean at last.

Thereafter, the two exit the small treatment room and after quick search manage to locate the counter where they are handed the prescription drugs by a guy in green scrubs apparently not bothering to remove his earphones just once, only ever nodding his head as he retrieves the packages in question.

“This hospital is unbelievable,” Jaime mutters as they walk down the aisle, and Brienne must say that she, too, is relieved when they are finally back outside. Against the odds of how shitty this day started out, she can’t complain about the weather. Things would have been far worse if she had ended up walking right out into the pouring rain, likely to leave a bloody trail behind her.

Brienne can’t help but frown when Jaime opens the car door for her once they reach his fancy car. While she understood that he did it as he basically hauled her in to get her to the hospital, it does strike Brienne as odd just now.

When Jaime gestures at her to get in, she does so wordlessly, blinking as he shuts the door and gets back around the car to get in on his side, whereas Brienne still ponders when the last time was when someone opened the door for her, any kind of door, out of simple courtesy. When she can’t think of an instance in over thirty seconds, Brienne abandons the thought and instead looks at the road ahead as Jaime pulls out of the parking lot.

“You still live on River Row, right?” Jaime asks, eyes focused on the road.

“Yes,” Brienne confirms.

She almost forgot that Jaime once picked her up from the airport, though she never asked for it. It was a business trip to Winterfell, and Jaime was royally pissed when he was told that she was going alone, all the while lamenting about how she would have free time to go skiing while he would be stuck doing extra-work.

It seems needless to mention that Brienne did not go skiing or enjoyed any kind of free time whatsoever, and was instead stuck with giving presentations, which is normally the part Jaime loves to take over – and is admittedly rather brilliant at as he manages to capture the masses with his almost painful kind of charm if he finds he has to display it – but now was up to her. While Brienne felt rather safe presenting on the sales figures, she soon had to realize that the audience did not nearly respond the way it does when they are teamed-up together. That, in turn, made Brienne so frustrated that she spent every free minute going over the presentations to improve them somehow or sitting on the hotel bed with some Winterfell-special kind of ice cream that was rather horrible, watching cheaply produced rom-coms.

She was thus ever the more irritated when she went up to the taxi stands to get into a cab, only to have Jaime intercept her, yelling across the entire street so that everyone heard him call her “wench” in public, making a grandeur gesture out of it that he was supposed to be her “personal chauffeur.”

That Brienne opened the cab’s door to get in anyway at that seemed not at all surprising, though Jaime eventually convinced her to let him take her home. The car ride itself had been all kinds of strange for Brienne because Jaime kept lamenting and lamenting about how horrible his week had been.

At one point she just couldn’t contain her laughter when he said that he had to give “the utmost terrible presentation” of his professional career as he had to take over her part with the “totally unnecessary for the plot” kind of sales figures, messed up half of them, and had to conclude with “sales are looking good, which is good, so come invest in our goodness,” or so he told her.

Though that led to a situation even odder than was the entire picking up from the airport was that Jaime mused about he never saw or heard her laugh like that before and that she should do that more often, or rather, that he should do “whatever it takes” to make her laugh like that again. It was during that moment that she wondered whether he was genuine about that, but that then resulted in another rant about how work sucked and that she would have to repay him for making him work so hard while she was likely having a grand time without her “partner in crime.”

To this day Brienne is not sure how he knew which flight she took and why he insisted on picking her up from the airport anyway, because apparently, she can afford a cab and that was what she had planned all along.

But that is the thing with Jaime Lannister, it seems, sometimes he gets something stuck in his head, and then he will carry it out until the bitter end.

“You know, maybe I should restart my prank-skills and unleash them on Edmure. There is a million ways to prank someone with a dead trout… or a living trout… Ohhhhhh, a living trout! See how good he is catching the thing when it jumps out of his drawer.”

“You will ngot drag living animals into this,” Brienne grunts, rolling her eyes.

At some point she cannot believe what kinds of conversations she tends to have on a regular basis with Jaime. Only once she started working with him did she have to discuss things such as trout pranks, Jaime’s conspiracy theory about how Jaqen H’ghar is changing faces just to confuse him, however that is supposed to work, or questions as thought-provoking as “are direwolves actually named like that because they are in dire need of attention instead of just being dire, and if so, is there are direlion?” In fact, Jaime Lannister somehow managed to transform most of her work routines into something else through his mere presence.

Over are the days of sticking her nose in a book while munching her fries. Instead, she has to concern herself with Jaime and his thoughts he just has to get out into the world, if only to grab her attention – and demanding all of it, which has her think that the only one deserving the dire-prefix is actually Jaime Lannister himself.

“Then a dead trout, like, a month old already!” Jaime goes on, his eyes sparking up with spiteful glee at the mere idea. “If I can get his car keys or manage to distract him in the parking lot so that it stays unlocked, he won’t be able to drive that car without carrying a barf bag with him for at least three months.”

Brienne rolls her eyes for what feels like the millionth time already. “Leave the trouts out of this.”

“Or I could just revive my Little League baseball arm of gold and toss something right at his head once we are back in the office,” Jaime goes on without a moment of hesitation. “I may lose my arm after that because docs said that baseball is over for me, but hey, that may be worth losing a hand for.”

“I think you should save up the sacrifice of your hand for something else,” Brienne huffs. She noticed very early on that something was off with his right hand, even though Jaime never made a deal out of it, in fact, most movements seemed utterly natural. Only once the two had somehow ended up in a paper ball fight did Jaime blurt out that she was only on the winning side because he could not use his right hand properly. A sport injury left the nerves in his right hand permanently damaged. For a while, it looked like they would have to amputate, but they managed to bypass that after a surgery-marathon, though there was too much nerve damage to regain full mobility. Jaime learned to deal with that by finding new ways to move his limbs to cover up for the weakness, but he can’t properly throw with his right anymore.

Not that his left didn’t improve in the meantime, Brienne thinks to herself, thinking back to the team-exercise where he managed to get the ball to her every damn time and then another time again, only to poke her with uncomfortable questions Brienne was not up for answering.

At some point Brienne regrets the time when she recommended to him to start teaching children how to play baseball because that allows him to make the movements without having to go full force “and doing something for the community.” Now that guy is not entirely bad throwing with his left, which clearly played to her disadvantage during the team-building exercise.

“Anyway, Edmure deserves some kind of punishment for all the trouble he has caused. I am still pretty sure I saw a cockroach in that hospital,” Jaime insists.

“You are aware that Edmure was only partly at fault for this, yes?” Brienne points out, fed up with Jaime’s constant deflection of his own involvement in the whole affair.

Sayeth what, m’lady?” Jaime gasps.

“Quit that,” Brienne retorts. The man loves to overstress his fancy for pseudo-medieval talk, though the man is clearly not a knight of the old days.

“But I do want to know what you’d mean by that,” Jaime retorts. “He smacked that ball right at your head that you and I had to sit in the waiting room of that shabby hospital for Gods know how long. I think that he is kind of… the bad guy in this.”

“Well, certainly his bad aim contributed most of it, but let’s not forget who distracted me the whole damn time,” Brienne huffs.

“I can’t help it that I am so radiant that you can’t help but check me out, like all the other ladies… and some guys.”

“I was not checking you out, I was trying to dodge your questions all the while.”

“Oh, c’mon, that was the friggin’ game,” Jaime snorts.

And that is when Brienne has had enough at last.

“First you joined my group even though you were assigned to another one, and then you tossed the ball at me whenever you got your hands on it to ask me all kinds of personal questions in front of the entire group,” she snaps.

“I already warned you that you would be the only one I would be talking to during that workshop. And evil you didn’t even bother making the effort to get on one team with me.”

“We were given slips of paper with animals on them, you might recall,” Brienne argues. Though she found that about as childish and unnecessary as everyone else, though the organizers seemed utterly convinced of the effectiveness of grouping people according to cartoon-animals.

“Yeah, I do. That they even dared to try to put me in the squid group should be a crime already. A Lannister always goes with the lion, damn it,” Jaime huffs.

“Which is why you then traded with Ellaria to get into the stag group, my group,” Brienne points out, still very vividly recalling the shit-eating grin he shot her way when he lined up with her group, even though she had been somewhat relieved when she found that he was nowhere near her group.

Jaime shakes his head with a grin. “I still consider it an unused pun that they basically gave small stag parties and did not advertise it like that. This is such bad marketing.”

“You are aware that you are dodging the topic right now, yes?” Brienne huffs.

Because Jaime Lannister, for all his passion to talk endlessly, can take any sincerity out of a discussion and simply shut down.

“Dodging the topic? Me? No way, wench, no way.”

“Yes, you are. I confront you about how you behaved yourself for that stupid exercise and all you have in mind is how the organizers of those events didn’t adjust their marketing plan properly,” Brienne insists.

“You know that I am devoted to my job.”

“Curious. During the exercise, you did not ask me questions about marketing at all, even though you are so very devoted to your job,” Brienne huffs, having none of it.

“The task was to ask personal questions. You read the brochure, wench, you should know.”

General questions,” Brienne corrects him. “Most of our colleagues wouldn’t even know my last name, even though it’s the same as an entire island. So they asked me for my favorite color or what not. But you? You have to take it to the next level and ask about the name of my last boyfriend or the friggin’ color of my panties.”

And at this point Brienne doesn’t even care anymore whether she is about to unleash another red flood. She pushed that anger down in the course of the shock of being hit in the head and then for fussing over the car she made of the car, but now it’s about to unleash because now that her mind sets back on that memory, Brienne could murder him right here, right now.

“Questions which you did not answer, by the way,” Jaime points out nonchalantly. “Even though you are so set on abiding by the rules.”

“My answer was that I threw the ball back at you for the sake of the panty question,” Brienne retorts.

“And almost hit me in the face with that!” Jaime snickers. “Now imagine how shitty it would have been if we both had ended up in the hospital with bloody noses.”

Brienne shakes her head.

Just why does he always have to be this way?

“I just don’t get it, you see? Why did you ask me those questions in front of the group? You said we are friends at the office – and then you still look at me like I am the one being over-the-top for being mad at you for that reason?” Brienne wants to know, suddenly more serious than she intended.

Because Jaime keeps insisting that they are friends somehow, and at some point, Brienne wouldn’t even be opposed to the idea, but that felt like flat-out betrayal to her. Jaime values privacy himself, and then he exposes her to having such personal information out in the open just for the fun of it?

No, that’s not what friends do.

At least not in Brienne’s book.

“But Edmure threw the ball that hit you in the head so that you gave us the red fountain,” Jaime grunts.

“And you had me distracted so that I didn’t see the ball coming,” Brienne retorts.

“And you let yourself be distracted. Which seems unlike you, as high-up as you have your guard at all friggin’ times,” Jaime argues.

“But why did you keep asking those questions? It just won’t go into my head,” Brienne keeps pushing.

Jaime only ever shrugs his shoulders at her in reply. “It was the one way to finally get answers because you, the honorable person you are, play by the rules, however stupid they are.”

“And why did you have to get answers to questions such as my relationship status?” Brienne insists.

“You wouldn’t tell me!”

“Why would you care?”

“Because…”

Because?”

“I… was trying to figure something out,” Jaime says, suddenly withdrawing with a kind of uncertainty very much unlike Jaime Lannister.

“And what exactly did you try to figure out?” Brienne wants to know.

Jaime puckers his lips. “We are no longer in the Circle of Doom, so I don’t have to tell you.”

“You asked all the while in the ER,” Brienne snaps, definitely fed up with the man’s double-standard.

“I was just teasing to keep you distracted from the red flood,” Jaime answers. “In fact, I was just doing you a favor, wench, think about it.”

Brienne shakes her head. “Ah.”

“I mean… I wouldn’t mind if you answered the question anyway…,” he goes on, his voice trailing off.

“I won’t answer unless you answer mine first, that much is for sure,” Brienne tells him, shaking her head.

“Well, then I guess the issue can’t be resolved,” Jaime says, shrugging his shoulders.

Brienne lets out a weary sigh. This entire conversation feels far too much like the fight they had back in the office.

“Seems like it…,” she mutters, before adding, “You have to turn left by that corner.”

“I know that. I have been there before, in case you forgot,” Jaime retorts.

“I just thought I would remind you,” Brienne huffs.

Thanks.”

“You are so very welcome.”

Utmost kind of you!”

The remaining miles down River Row are driven in silence. And at last, Jaime parks the car in front of the apartment complex and Brienne is ready to leave to the comfort of her home, having had enough of the public humiliation, Jaime’s lamenting, and the constant fighting with him, even though she felt utterly betrayed by him against the odds of him being the one person to treat her decently, which makes everything far too complicated inside Brienne’s mind, which is still reeling from the headache.

This is just like they parted last time when they had the fight at the office, and in fact, over the same kind of issue that made them yell at each other last time already.

Maybe people are right when they say that repeating things over and over in the hope to get a different result is a kind of madness – because this is mad.

And that, even though, deep down, Brienne actually enjoyed not having to carry a book around with her because someone at the office would mean to talk to her, and that person was Jaime, but ever since he got the idea stuck in his head that he wants to know personal details Brienne is not comfortable sharing with a colleague. And she thought that Jaime of all people would understand that, as he himself asserted often enough how he hated it that other people believe to know so much about the Kingslayer, even though they have absolutely no clue who he is and what he is actually like.

“Thanks for the ride and the… well, support. I will see you on Monday,” Brienne mutters as she opens the car door and tries to get out as fast as possible. She closes the door with a thud and starts towards the stone stairs leading up to the apartment complex, clutching the brown paper bag with packages of pills close to her flat chest, suddenly feeling not at all that furious, but sad, actually.

Brienne starts to fish for the keys in her pocket, thanking the Seven when they come out at last, already pondering whether taking a long bath with sea salt bath bombs, a gift from Goodwin before she parted to King’s Landing as they are made with the finest salt found around Tarth, is the right choice now to somehow cool her nerves. The young woman tends to reckon that she is so utterly irritated because that whole situation was such a troublesome mess that her body just wants to catch a break now.

Or maybe I will just take the pills and then go straight to bed, only to wake up Monday morning, Brienne thinks to herself as she turns the key in the lock.

When a car honks close by, she whips her head around in shock, surprised to see Jaime snapping his head away from the steering wheel, seemingly having knocked his head against it in sheer frustration, arms still held up high as though he just got caught in the act of throwing a tantrum.

And that is something utterly surreal for Brienne, who knows Jaime either as this man trying so desperately to be funny just to see her roll her eyes at him, threatening or charming to colleagues, or utterly composed when dealing with important matters. However, that version of himself? Brienne has never quite seen it before.

Brienne can do nothing much but tilt her head as she sees Jaime looking ahead with a pensive grimace, but then decides that she would do best getting inside at last, though that is yet again interrupted by the sound of Jaime opening the car door.

“Wench! Hold up!”

“It’s not…”

Brienne, hold up!” Jaime corrects with a roll of his eyes as he jogs up the stairs.

“What do you want?” Brienne sighs, not sure for how much longer she can hold herself together at this rate, because the young woman will admit that she feels rather thin-skinned all of a sudden, even though her face feels as though it was twice as thick due to the swelling.

“I am… apologizing,” Jaime sighs, though Brienne can see that he has to force himself to even speak up just now.

“… You what?” she gapes.

Jaime Lannister saying sorry? Alright, where is the hidden camera?

Because that is even more surreal than what went on at the team-building exercise as a whole proved to be.

Apologizing,” Jaime repeats with a grimace. “C’mon, now don’t make me drag it out, you know that hurts the Lannister pride.”

“I thought you were genetically unable to apologize for anything,” Brienne huffs, rolling her eyes. He told her that often enough when he misbehaved himself and she called him upon it.

Jaime shrugs at that. “Mutation, perhaps? Or maybe I caught some disease in that rat hole of a hospital after all?”

“Can we just get to the point?” Brienne sighs.

Jaime scratches the back of his head, looking around, and Brienne can spot the kind of discomfort she normally only ever witnesses herself when the man is yet again crossing the line.

Just what is going on here?

“Right, well… I am sorry for that shit at the even shittier team-building exercise. That was over the line… and… for yelling at you. You deserve more bonus for being bereft of the n-sound and your face having gotten smacked thanks to Lord Trout.”

“… It’s fine, let’s just forget about it,” Brienne tells him, shaking her head.

She is honestly just sick of fighting, which might seem odd to most people who know her, because Brienne is always up for a battle, but right now, she just feels drained from all the trouble and apparent shock of Jaime apologizing to her in all earnest.

“But I don’t… I don’t think we should,” Jaime argues. “Or that I can.”

Brienne whips her head around to him, pinching her nose a little tighter out of fear that the red flood will return in the wake of such earth-shattering revelations such as Jaime Lannister saying sorry to her – and meaning it.

“I can always knock you in the head if you are looking for temporal amnesia,” she offers, to which Jaime lets out a nervous kind of laughter, “I may take you up on that offer one of these days, but… not today.”

“The point is…,” Jaime wants to say, but then stops, looking down with a grimace, stomping with his right foot. “Seven’s sake, I am really bad at that kind of thing.”

“What kind of thing?” she asks, for a moment seeing something she never saw on Jaime that way before, only ever saw reflected in herself – uncertainty.

Brienne frowns when he takes out what looks like a crumpled receipt from a supermarket in the shape of a small orb.

“I don’t have an actual ball with me right now… I mean, I do have balls…,” Jaime means to say, but Brienne cuts him off, “Just cut to the topic or else I am up the stairs.”

“Well, because you were trying to avoid my questions, you never tossed a ball at me, which means that you couldn’t ever ask me a personal question, really,” Jaime explains, dropping the ball in her hand, which she catches more out of reflex than anything else.

“I don’t need a paper ball for that,” Brienne argues, still trying to wrap her head around what Jaime may be up to with this.

“If so, how comes you never ask me personal questions?” Jaime huffs, suddenly more sincere than Brienne expected him to sound, reckoning that this would be just another dumb joke he would mean to make to slip away before the conversation could turn to something too serious.

“Because they are none of my concern?” Brienne replies, shrugging her broad shoulders at him.

“And isn’t that kind of the point?”

“Of what?” Brienne wants to know.

“Toss the ball and I will answer.”

She shakes her head.

Because Brienne is honestly done playing those stupid games.

“Jaime, can’t we just quit that foolish game already? If you want something, say it. If you want an answer, ask the proper question, but stop joking around with paper balls already.”

“The reason why I asked those questions was because I wanted to sound out the situation,” Jaime says without saying much of anything.

What situation?”

“Whether you had a partner,” he answers.

“What would lead you to the assumption that I have one?” Brienne wants to know, furrowing her eyebrows at the man.

What’s it to him?

“You never show up to the company-intern single parties, you even wear a ring, but you never talk about someone and stay with me forever at the office to prep up presentations,” Jaime recounts.

“The ring is a family heirloom,” Brienne answers simply.

“Ohhhh!” he calls out. “See, you never tell me that.”

“You never asked that in particular?” Brienne argues. She would have told him if he had asked. That was no great kind of personal detail, but instead of asking her about the ring he went ahead to ask about the color of her panties.

So what was he expecting?

“The point is, whenever I asked you anything relating to your relationship status, you dodged the question, as though I was trying to give you Greyscale,” Jaime tells her.

“Which still leaves open the question as to why it would interest you whether I had a partner or not,” Brienne argues, though she will admit that it still strikes her as almost shocking that Jaime doesn’t do what most other people seem to think when they see her, simply taking for granted that she must be single, as ugly and mannish she is, always focused on work and not at all into socializing. Brienne is far too used to people making jokes about how she must be single based on her lifestyle that it almost knocks the air out of her lungs to think that Jaime, the man who makes a joke out of everything, would genuinely not just make the assumption that she was single.

Maybe he has the rights with it at least on that one occasion – there are no men quite like him.

Not that Brienne would ever say that to his face, of course. She would never see the end of that.

“Because…,” he means to say, but then stops to look down again.

Because?”

Jaime sucks the inside of his cheek into his mouth before replying, “Because then I could have asked you out on a date without having to fear that you knock the head off my shoulders for it?”

“You what?!” Brienne gapes, believing for a moment that her head is going to explode, because that is simply too much.

“Easy, or else we have the red fountain again – and neither of us would want that.”

“You… you wanted to ask me out on a date?” Brienne asks, her entire system focused on that one sentence, that one implication.

Jaime Lannister wanting to ask her out on a date?

Jaime Lannister, poster boy for the company since Gods know when, wanting to ask her out on a date?

And here she thought that the team-building exercise experience as a whole was surreal.

“… Yes?” he says with a grimace.

“Is that a question now, seriously?” Brienne asks.

“You make me nervous because you make me feel like I am in the wrong by just looking at me the wrong way,” Jaime retorts, gesturing wildly. “If judgment had a color, it would be as blue as your eyes, because they can pierce right through me.”

“I… and then you thought the best idea was to poke me for information in the eyes of everyone else?” she argues, because that won’t go into her head, even less so as her mind is still reeling from the bomb he just dropped to her feet.  

“I don’t care about those fuckers? So yeah? I thought it was a way to finally get you to answer the question without dodging… which then again meant that you were so up for dodging that you didn’t see Lord Trout’s epic fail at a toss,” Jaime answers.

“You wanted to ask me out on a date,” Brienne repeats, in the futile attempt to somehow make this fit into her thoughts.

She begrudgingly came to accept that Jaime may be more than a colleague, but actually a friend, and now she is supposed to come to terms with Jaime meaning to date her, even though he spent every minute trying to annoy her, to make fun of her, or to act as though everything meant nothing.

“Yes,” he confirms.

“You… want to go on a date with me.”

No, still not going inside her head, no matter Brienne’s efforts.

“Yes?” Jaime answers, glaring at her. “Geez, you make me question all of my life choices with just looking at you. Couldn’t you just quit that look for once? It’s creeping me out.”

“I am in shock,” Brienne argues.

And how shouldn’t she be after such a revelation?

Brienne would have more readily believed in any of Jaime’s conspiracy theories than Jaime meaning to date her.

“That is not the usual reply I get when I ask ladies out on a date, but then again, you were always a special case, so why am I even surprised?” Jaime sighs, shaking his head.

“I just… I just don’t get that you would want to date me. I thought that you hate me half the time, and the other you just take your sweet time having fun at my expenses,” Brienne argues.

“Beside my family, you are the only person around the office I care about… And you look like I just punched you in the gut, which, for the record, I did not. Seven Hells forth and back, you manage to make me, an arrogant asshole who is always cocksure about everything he does, feel totally unsure about myself. At some point I should be glad that you are on our team or else you would likely take over my dad’s company soon,” Jaime laments.

“… You wanted to ask me out on a date… You…,” Brienne repeats yet again in the vain hope to make it fit inside her head at last.

“You know, you can just say no and all is good. I don’t hold grudges, but I don’t want you to hold a grudge just because you think I am being a royal ass for no reason,” Jaime tells her. “I don’t know why or how, I just know that you make me act like an unsure teenager more often than should be healthy and Gods know I loathe it, but… well, I thought asking you out on a date may actually solve that. Apparently, that came with another whole bucket of problems, filled with trouts and gauze and prescription drugs.”

“So are you telling me that you were flirting with me with that kind of shit as of late?” Brienne questions, because she has seen him charm his way with any other co-worker, and she is fairly sure that she was not subjected to the same attitude. Instead, she had Jaime curse and insult her to the point that they had regular fights at the office over things as trivial as papers lying around in the wrong place or stolen fries.

“I am actually really good at flirting, but you… you make me suck, I don’t know. But since I realized that this happened, I thought it might be for the best to test the waters with the questions a bit.”

“And the constant bugging me?” Brienne wants to know. “That didn’t come across to me as something you do to find out whether the other person wouldn’t be opposed to a date.”

“It’s fun? That’s what friends form work do?”

“Not really?”

Jaime rolls his eyes. “Well, that’s what I do.”

Brienne shakes her head. “You are perhaps one of the oddest persons I have ever made the acquaintance of.”

“I will give that compliment right back to you…,” he snorts, flashing a nervous kind of smile. “But anyway, you said that I should ask you straight to get an answer. Now I have brought myself to that at the risk of making a complete and utter fool of myself, so I think courtesy would demand that you answer me in some way.”

“Answer.”

“To the question, yes,” Jaime huffs, gesturing at her forehead. “You know, if you are that slow on the uptake, I reckon I should get you back to the hospital. Maybe the non-auroch doctor was shit after all. I told you I should have taken you to the family’s private creepy doctor. He may be a nutjob, but he did the job outright with my hand injury.”

“I am fine. I am just… in shock, that is all I can say. My day has been quite an adventure already – and now you drop such a bomb and expect me to instantly channel that information?” Brienne retorts.

“You really know how to step and stomp on a guy’s ego,” Jaime snorts. “In shock over a date with me? Wow. Just wow.”

“Even I am not that tall to manage to stop on your ego.”

“Well, you got the legs for it,” he jokes, though even his little jabs seem suddenly very different, only ever adding to Brienne’s current confusion.

“I am just trying to say that I never thought that you would think of me in that way,” she tells him.

“Trust me, I am about as irritated about it as you probably are. Because you drive me crazy half the time,” Jaime huffs, shaking his head.

“You drive me crazy all the time.”

“So we have something in common after all… You do realize that we are going off-topic all the time?” Jaime laughs nervously.

“You are a master at that,” Brienne snorts.

“Yeah, and so are you. So… answer?”

“To what question?”

“To date or not to date, that is the question? I mean, once you are fine again, that is. If you want to say no, though, you can also shake your head. Wouldn’t fancy to ruin my shirt even further,” Jaime tells her, talking way faster than is usual, even more so because Jaime Lannister does not lose his cool – ever.

Until today, that is.

Jaime blinks when the paper ball he handed to Brienne hits him in the forehead.

“Blood washes out rather well with aspirin,” she matters.

“Okay, from this point on you never get to complain to me about teasing again,” Jaime huffs.

However, that is not even the issue, Brienne is aware. The issue is that her co-worker with whom she fights on a regular basis, who teases her so much that she wants to punch him half the time while at the same time being the only person around the company she bothers talking to and spending time with, the one guy who acts decently around her when it matters, and apparently can’t help but be indecent in order to find answers to some questions apparently… wants to date her.

The issue is that this now leaves her with the ball in hand, having to answer a question she didn’t dare think about at all too often. Certainly, there were those moments when Brienne couldn’t help but note her own disappointment when Jaime would always dodge conversation when it got too personal.

And the fact is that she was disappointed – for a reason, it seems.

This is a kind of madness indeed.

“My answer is… yes?” Brienne finds herself say before her mind can ponder any further.

Jaime gapes at her, seemingly not having anticipated that at all. “Really?”

Brienne nods her head slowly, having expected that about as little as he did.

But that is the thing – Jaime is in fact the one person around the office who makes her put down her book or who drives her to the point that a mere argument with him will have her stick her nose into a brochure only just to avoid him.

“And if I screw this up, you will forever look upon me with judgmental judgment?” he laughs.

She nods. “You bet.”

“And do I get to follow through with my trout pranks now? I mean, following the logic, I am now defending my girlfriend,” Jaime chimes.

“I am not your girlfriend. I agreed to a date, that’s quite something else,” Brienne argues. Because that was enough for a single day – and Brienne dares to think that after all the team-building exercise, expanding their team to that level may be more than the organizers ever could have anticipated with their grand speeches about bringing people closer together through ball-tossing and cards with cartoonish animals on them to raise the team spirit.

Though maybe they want to take that for the marketing, considering that this brought two people closer together who were stuck in a limbo of in-betweeness, unable to move forward or backward from where they stood.

Even though that means they now stand on the doorsteps leading to Brienne’s apartment, with her still clutching a paper bag full of prescription drugs, her face swollen and her nose still a blood-smeared mess.

This is not exactly what she saw happening again and again and then another time again while watching those cheap rom-coms back at Winterfell.

“We are already office besties,” Jaime argues. “So why not?”

“I would rather not have you call us that… ever again.”

Brienne is surprised when she feels Jaime grasping her hand with which she isn’t clutching the paper bag, only to stare when he presses a kiss to the back of her hand, rewarding her with the most shit-eating grin she has ever seen on him.

“I thought a kiss on the mouth is off-bounds right now because it’s hidden underneath layers of gauze and cooling packs. And I reckon that may be best reserved for the actual date. Though for the record, I now totally stepped up to my nickname-game with that gesture,” Jaime chuckles softly, suddenly seeming much more certain about again, even though Brienne can still sense a bit of uncertainty flowing out of him, and she must say that she finds a bit of reassurance in that.

Because that means she is not the only one completely overwhelmed by this situation.

“At some point I still think I will wake up in that shabby hospital any second now, only to realize that all of this was a weird dream,” Brienne huffs, shaking her head.

“Afraid not, this is reality, your reality,” Jaime snorts. “And in that reality, you are stuck with me.”

“Seems like it,” Brienne agrees, shaking her head. “Well, I am heading up to my apartment now anyway. I need to wash up my face.”

“But I get a date. And I will keep pushing you for the exact date and time, even if that means I have to bring the ball back,” Jaime wants to make sure.

“You won’t do that,” she snorts.

“I totally will. This may be our proper way of communication, think about it,” he laughs.

“I am heading up now, this is getting stupid,” Brienne huffs, waving her free arm at him in dismissal.

“Hey, don’t treat your future date like that,” he calls out.

“Well, since I don’t like owing favors, how about I treat you to a coffee instead,” Brienne says, surprising herself with a kind of activity standing in stark contrast to her thoughts from some minutes ago, which were focused on the peace of her bathtub and the smell of salt, though she dares to doubt she actually would have smelled that with her stuffed nose.

“So this is the date already? I feel terribly unprepared,” Jaime argues.

“This is no date. This is coffee. That’s a difference,” Brienne argues, opening the door, reckoning that if she wants him to open up to her, too, she may have to open up some doors as well, even if that means having the personal space behind the book, behind the door leading to her apartment invaded.

“Well, I suppose that means we can decide on the specificities of our date… and I can use the time to get some answers on the questions you didn’t answer me yet!” Jaime says almost gleefully.

“You are ngot getting beyond the living room, trust me,” Brienne retorts, her frustration bubbling right back up because her nose decides to be stuffed whenever it sees it as convenient, even though it’s not at all convenient for her.

“Haha, I think I want you talking like that as my ringtone. Would you mind repaying the favor that way?” Jaime snickers.

“Then you would have to forgo the coffee,” Brienne points out to him, gesturing at the door. “Your choice.”

“Oh well, then I stick to the coffee,” Jaime chuckles, making sure to step inside before she can close the door in his face. “Plus, someone has to watch out for you. You already got yourself into the hospital today, after all.”

“I don’t need you to watch out for me,” Brienne huffs, shaking her head as she proceeds up the inside-staircase leading up to her apartment, Jaime right behind her.

“Of course you do. I am your golden knight in shining… business suit.”

“Ready to fight the oh so evil Lord Trout?”

“You bet.”

“And what does that make me?”

“The wench in distress?”

“No.”

“It’s a term of endear…”

“No.”

“You will only start the red fountain again if you tell me no that often.”

“I have enough gauze to chance the red flood.”

“How daring of you, Ms. Tarth. That seems so unlike you.”

“This is not nearly as daring as this entire situation is.”

“Well, maybe that team-building exercise was good for something after all. You and I as presentation partners – killing it. Us two even closer together? We will be unstoppable… or annihilate the earth, one of the two, I am sure.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Because we rule?”

“That has yet to be determined.”

“This has basically been sealed in blood.”

“That is disgusting.”

“Geez, just how many stairs do we have to climb to get there? Do you live in a friggin’ tower? Because if so, you are definitely a wench in distress waiting to be rescued from a tower.”

“I don’t think that damsels in distress get hit in the head with a ball, end up in crazy hospitals, only to end up having coffee with the even weirder colleague.”

“And future date.”

“Apparently… yes. And isn’t that kind of mad?”

“That’s the mad kind of reality I can live with.”

“Well, we will see. For now, it’s washing the face and getting coffee.”

“And plotting trout pranks.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

“Ngooo! Oh crap.”

“Told you so, wench, told you, red flood was coming. But don’t worry, I got you, as I said.”

THE END