The Mayor was drunk again.
He’d been out since eight, and it was nearing two in the morning, and Brienne doubted he’d so much as paused for breath in his quest to get absolutely sozzled. She’d seen him staggering from bar to bar, letting pretty girls try on his chain of office, making loud and increasingly profane toasts to the city, and repeatedly demanding that the DJ play Come On Eileen.
He had never used to be so obvious about it. He’d always been a raging drunk, of course, but he’d never used to do it in his full mayoral regalia. He had kept things behind closed doors a bit more, as was the British way. But ever since Sheffield had elected that cool young mayor who had made a name for himself by banning Trump from the city for being ‘a wasteman’, Mayor Robert Baratheon had been getting ideas. Unfortunately, his method of expressing himself largely consisted of getting rip-roaringly pissed almost every night of the week, and having the occasional sex scandal.
Brienne had the dubious privilege of bearing witness to a significant amount of the Mayor’s debauchery, since Guildhall Walk, where she did the majority of her door work, was home to no less than three strip clubs, and therefore his preferred destination for a night out.
Tonight Brienne was working at Babylon, a particularly sticky-floored nightclub with bright pink walls, one of which was decorated with a photo-collage of all the notable celebrities of the 1990s. The DJ would only ever play music from that particular decade, and any requests for something a bit more recent would invariably be met with resounding scorn. The Mayor’s calls for Come On Eileen, therefore, had fallen on deaf ears, but there were enough shouty laddish songs by the likes of Blur and the Prodigy to prevent him from moving on to another establishment for the time being.
It must be a special occasion, given that the blokes accompanying him who looked as though they would rather be literally anywhere else. Brienne assumed it was his birthday; he was just the sort of man who would have been born on St George’s Day. He liked beer, football, and naked women, and he had a tendency to pronounce the word ‘England’ with three syllables.
Among the Mayor’s party were two men who by the looks of it were his brothers; one was balding and glaring and looking as though he violently resented this evening of enforced fraternal fun, and the other was younger, handsome and well-dressed, with his arm round an equally handsome guy who was looking more and more pissed off with every homophobic joke Mayor Baratheon made.
‘Always knew you were a woolly woofter, Ren,’ the Mayor declared to the youngest brother, before turning back to the other one. ‘But Stan? Bloody Stan? How can both of you be gay? Makes my fucking head spin. Mind you, I should have guessed. Even when you married a woman, you picked one with a moustache.’
Poor Stan. He was grinding his teeth an awful lot. Brienne would have quite liked to have two gay brothers. For one thing, all the hand-me-downs she’d had to wear throughout her childhood might have been a bit less tragic.
‘ING-ER-LAND!’ bellowed the Mayor, seemingly apropos of nothing. Brienne grimaced. It was always a bit embarrassing to see an English person display any kind of patriotism more exuberant than awkwardly standing up for the National Anthem and mumbling their way through.
‘Should I tell him St George was probably from Palestine?’ said Edd gloomily. ‘Or Greece. He’d hit me if I told him that, wouldn’t he? It would be just my luck to get hit by the Mayor. It’s true, though.’
Edd was one of Brienne’s favourite co-workers, mostly because he had never asked her if she was a lesbian. He was a dour, wiry history buff who hadn’t cracked a smile as long as she had known him, although she had a private theory that he was far less miserable than he was letting on, and simply chose to dole out relentless pessimistic whimsy for his own amusement.
‘What’s the story behind St George slaying the dragon?’ asked Brienne, watching idly as the Mayor downed a series of jager bombs. ‘Was it just a particularly large lizard or something?’
‘You have a very literal mind,’ said Edd, shaking his head. ‘The dragon is a metaphor. The most popular legend has it terrorising a city in Libya, demanding human sacrifice. All the Libyans just go along with it, apparently. Anything for an easy life. Then along comes George. Ooh, I’ve got a lance, I’ve stabbed the dragon a bit, now I’ve got it on a lead like a dog. The Libyans are amazed and terrified, because none of them ever thought about poking it with a sharp stick. They’re all far too foreign to come up with a novel idea like that. Then old Georgey boy tells them he’ll kill it, but they’ll have to convert to Christianity first. He’s only a bloody Crusader, isn’t he? The Libyans agree, possibly just to shut him up. George cuts off the dragon’s head, murdering an indigenous creature and eradicating the ancient religion of an entire city with one swoop of his big Christian sword. Now that’s how you get canonised.’
‘Oh,’ said Brienne. She supposed she shouldn’t be surprised that a holiday the Tories were always banging on about had such racist origins. ‘So the dragon represents the evils of… not being a Christian?’
‘To people like him, yes,’ said Edd, nodding his head dismissively at the Mayor. ‘I’d be more inclined to interpret it as a metaphor for the global stranglehold of western imperialism, but what do I know?’
He wandered off to have a word with a punter who was trying to set his mate’s beard on fire.
Brienne sighed, feeling strangely disappointed. She supposed it had been too much to hope that England’s patron saint had been a true knight, chivalrous and honourable. This explained why St George’s Day had that weird tinge of embarrassment to it, though. Since coming to university she’d had enough semi-pissed Deep Conversations with other students to know that Britain’s global legacy was far uglier than the genteel, top-hat-wearing, tea-sipping image it liked to project. To take all the atrocities of the Crusades and the British Empire, to sieve them through the sands of time to make them palatable because ‘that’s just what people did back then,’ and then to celebrate them by stringing up bunting, eating fairy cakes and drinking shit lager, and shouting things like ‘TWO WORLD WARS AND ONE WORLD CUP’… well, it was more than a little in poor taste.
Increasingly aware that her thoughts were rather maudlin tonight, Brienne moved away from the Mayor’s table. He was determinedly describing the breasts of every woman he had ever shagged in excruciating detail, in an apparent homemade attempt at conversion therapy on his longsuffering brothers. She wished old Jeor had put her on the front door, and not out here in the concrete smoking area that they all collectively deluded themselves was a beer garden because it had a few tables and potted plants. The Mayor wasn’t the only drunk idiot out here, but he was certainly the loudest.
At least some of the girls were out tonight. Meera had stayed home to work on an essay, and Arya had gone to some metal night with her friend Gendry, who was always gazing at her with the air of a bloke who in theory he knew he shouldn’t propose marriage at the age of nineteen, but in practice was finding it very difficult not to blurt it out. Sansa, Jeyne, Asha and Margaery were here, though, and they had settled themselves at a sheltered table to rest their feet while Asha had a few fags. As per usual, a couple of hopeful blokes had attached themselves to Sansa and Margaery like limpets.
‘I’m saying that all patron saints’ days are a con,’ Asha was ranting. ‘Not just this one. Look at St Paddy’s Day. Ooh, leprechauns, Guinness, pinch me if I’m not wearing green! Dig deeper underneath the tourist shite, and what’s it celebrating? The man who brought Christianity to Ireland. And look how well that worked out. St Patrick should have been punted into the sea.’
Brienne debated introducing her to Edd, before coming to the immediate realisation that Asha would eat him for breakfast. Attired in her favourite leather trousers and an old Thin Lizzy t-shirt, Asha had a way of making the most casual of clothes look appropriate for any situation. It was probably down to confidence, which Asha had an awful lot of. As the sort of person who apologised to a wall if she bumped into it, Brienne supposed she wouldn’t really know.
‘We heard all this a month ago when it was relevant,’ said Margaery, who was flicking through the photo gallery on her phone. ‘Osney, darling, would you mind just taking a couple more? None of these look very candid.’
‘I wonder why,’ muttered Jeyne, who was looking resoundingly fed up with being ignored in favour of two random blokes.
Osney gamely got to his feet and took more pictures of Margaery as she smiled and laughed in the vague direction of her friends. She was wearing a tight red dress and had curled her hair. It was all a bit Pretty Woman, which Brienne had watched with Sansa under much duress. Upon reviewing Osney’s newest doomed attempts at the illusion of spontaneity, Margaery pursed her lips.
‘I just don’t think you’re a natural photographer,’ she said. ‘I’m sure you have other redeeming qualities. It’s all right; I’ll take a selfie.’
‘Crisis averted,’ said Asha, rolling her eyes and her next fag simultaneously. ‘I wonder what you’d do if you ever had an actual problem.’
Sticking her middle finger up at Asha, Margaery cheerfully began to take a series of selfies with Osney, but she stopped almost immediately.
‘Sansa, you’re in this. Stop talking and be aesthetic.’
‘I will not,’ declared Sansa, who had been in deep conversation with her own admirer. ‘We’re having a very important discussion, aren’t we, Os… Os…’
‘Osfryd,’ supplied the bloke, who looked as though he truly didn’t give a shit if Sansa remembered his name or not, because he had obviously long forgotten hers. Brienne watched him carefully. He was a big bloke, and Sansa was drunker than usual.
‘Osfryd,’ repeated Sansa. ‘I’ll remember this time, I promise. But what do you think I should do?’
‘Dump him,’ said Osfryd indifferently. ‘You look dead fit in that dress. Do you want another drink?’
‘No, she doesn’t,’ said Brienne, stepping forward.
‘Brienne!’ Sansa beamed at her. ‘You’re so smart. I probably don’t want one, Osfryd, but you are very kind to offer. Anyway, I can’t dump him because he’s not my boyfriend, and if he was, this wouldn’t even be a problem.’
Osfryd perked up. ‘If he’s not your boyfriend, you’re free to do whatever you want. Why don’t you show him what he’s missing?’
He slid his hand onto Sansa’s thigh. Brienne tensed.
Sansa laughed and swiped the offending hand aside.
‘Oh, I don’t want that,’ she said, giggling and wrinkling her nose at him as though he had offered her a comically unpleasant snack, like one of those gelatin salads from the 1950s. ‘I want Sandor. Do you think I should text him? I’m going to text him.’
Retrieving her phone from her bag, she began to craft a message with intense concentration, evidently drunk enough to text something suggestive, but not so far gone that she was willing to undignify herself by making a typo. Osfryd shrugged, and shuffled along the bench to try his luck with Jeyne. It was a bold move, and it was anyone’s guess how it would play out. Jeyne’s self-esteem fluctuated so wildly that Brienne doubted there was a bookie in the country who could have correctly calculated the odds of Osfryd getting his end away.
‘What’s going on with Sansa and Sandor?’ Brienne whispered to Asha.
‘It’s unclear,’ said Asha. ‘She didn’t start banging on about him until she was already pissed. Sounds like she was trying to get him out on another date and he didn’t go for it. All this after he’s been rattling her brains out for months, the tight bastard.’
‘What?’ Brienne frowned. ‘But he always seems to like her so much.’
‘He likes shagging her all right,’ said Asha. ‘Can you blame him? Look at her.’
They both glanced over. Sansa was wearing a floral dress so floaty and frilly that it would have looked absolutely ridiculous on almost anyone else, but which just made her look like some sort of ethereal meadow-dwelling dryad. She had even cracked out a flower crown.
‘She’s probably a right pain in the arse to be in an actual relationship with, though,’ Asha went on, ‘and I reckon old Sandor’s figured that out. I bet you anything that on at least one occasion she’s tried to get him to dress up as the Phantom of the Opera.’
Brienne laughed before she could stop herself. Asha had a point. Still, it was a shame. Sandor was hardly the kind of bloke anyone sane would have chosen for Sansa, but he seemed to make her happier than her ex Harry ever had. They had gone on a handful of dates since November, but they mostly appeared to spend their time together very loudly shagging. On second thought, maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if their involvement petered out. Brienne would certainly get a bit more sleep if she didn’t have to listen to them gasping and moaning and whatnot. Sometimes it was so over the top it sounded like performance art.
‘Call me over if she gets too drunk,’ Brienne told Asha.
The opening strains of C’est la Vie by B*Witched began to emerge from within the club, and the girls bolted inside to dance with such rapidity that they practically left a dust cloud behind. Margaery had dragged Osney in with her; only Osfryd remained, looking faintly baffled.
‘Probably for the best,’ Brienne said to him bracingly. She moved onto the next table, which had several blokes standing on top of it.
‘All right, that’s enough,’ she called, and then immediately regretted it when she was who she was dealing with.
Hyle Hunt. A fellow Criminology student, and possibly the most disingenuous person Brienne had ever encountered. He had a cowlick and wore a lot of double denim, and while he might have been a decent person in some universe somewhere, he bloody wasn’t in this one. He was from Bristol and had an accent that could have been quite endearing if he had had any earthly notion of how to shut the fuck up. It was bad enough that she had to deal with him in class, but lately he had taken to showing up to harass her while she was at work. Worst of all, he had developed a foolproof tactic for making her insecurities attack with renewed vigour.
‘Lads, look who it is!’ he shouted to his mates, who briefly stopped yelling about football to tipsily peer down at her. ‘Fittest bird on my course! Brienne – the – beauty! Come on, get up on the table with us, love, try enjoying yourself for once –’
‘I’m working, Hyle,’ said Brienne while his mates whooped.
‘Take a break!’ said Hyle, tapping his temple at her obnoxiously. ‘They’ve got to give you your fifteen minutes, it’s the law.’
‘You wouldn’t need fifteen minutes, mate, even with her,’ interjected one of his friends, a ginger guy she vaguely recognised. The others shouted and high-fived him. Brienne felt her cheeks flare bright red.
‘Look, you know the rules,’ she said, fighting to keep her voice even. ‘Do you want to fall down and crack your heads open on the concrete? I’ll give you a minute, now get down.’
‘Why?’ said Hyle. ‘Someone’s taller than you for once, why don’t you make the most of it? Here, have a drink with us. What time do you get off?’
‘Fucking never, with you, mate,’ sniggered his ginger friend. They all shouted and cackled again.
Brienne tried to take deep breaths, tried to look nonchalant and thick-skinned, as though she had heard it all before, as though the only thing that remotely bothered her about the situation was how weak Hyle’s mates’ banter was.
She knew she wasn’t convincing them. She never did.
‘If you don’t get down within one minute, I’m escorting you out,’ she said forcefully.
‘Aw, babes, don’t be like that,’ said Hyle, almost gurning with faux-earnestness. He drunkenly reached out a hand. Brienne stared at him hard, willing him to grab her, hit her – anything she could match with equal force without worrying about losing her job. But all he did was ghost a caress along the air beside her cheek, as though he were in a 1980s music video. She jerked her head back.
‘Evening, lads,’ said a heart-burstingly familiar voice from beside her. ‘Not giving security any trouble, are we?’
Brienne hadn’t thought it would be possible for her face to get any redder, but somehow it found a way.
I actually quite like Hyle, but the story called for him to be a dick.
I've been in the countryside for a week! It was full of lambs. Unrelated to this story in any way, but delightful nonetheless.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Detective Inspector Jaime Lannister.
The world’s handsomest police officer.
A golden god.
A man so unattainably beautiful that to contemplate anything more than a strictly professional relationship with him would have been akin to an obese geriatric sloth watching the human Olympics on the telly, looking at Usain Bolt, and thinking I could do that.
Yes, Brienne was the sloth in this comparison. That’s just how out of her league Jaime was. She had tried out multiple different analogies in her head, in a futile attempt to quantify the magnitude of the gulf between them, and this one was her current favourite. It wasn’t as soul-destroying as some of the others – at least sloths were cute.
They had met back in September when she had stepped in during that stabbing, and he had addressed her with a combination of warmth, courtesy, and admiration that was like nothing she had ever experienced before, and which she still couldn’t help thinking of every night as she lay in bed. Jaime had taken her statement, complimented her jiu jitsu prowess at great length, driven her home, and even given her his personal number, so that if she recalled anything else about the incident, she could let him know right away. He was so dedicated to his job. Brienne had racked her brains to try and come up with any pertinent piece of information which would justify sending him a text, and had finally hit the jackpot. There was a photo on the club’s official Facebook page which quite clearly showed the stabber in the background, reaching for something inside his jacket.
Brienne had sent Jaime the photo, heart pounding with nervousness, and he had responded with effusive praise, calling her a super sleuth and a future detective and making her glow with pleasure. Somehow the praise had transitioned into small talk, at which Brienne was famously horrible, so the conversation had trailed off. She had kicked herself for weeks for not being bubbly and witty enough to keep his interest, and for being stupid enough to so desperately crave the attentions of a man approximately as attainable as a reasonably-priced house in central London.
They had bumped into each other a few times since then; she next saw him at the pub in November, surrounded by all her ridiculously pretty friends, and she had wanted to curl up and hide under the table rather than look into his eyes and witness him comparing her to them. Then there was New Year’s Eve. Jaime had been out with friends, three sheets to the wind, and had seen Brienne working the door from halfway down the street. He began to run towards her, and the world had seemed to go into slow motion, like the two of them were living their own fully-clothed episode of Baywatch. He had spent the ensuing five minutes drunkenly telling her how much he wanted her to beat him up (‘I mean it, Tarth. I want you to slam me against a wall and punch me in the gut. Crush my windpipe, I don’t care, I can take it. Our battle will be legendary’) until his mates arrived to drag him away, laughing and shaking their heads.
The following morning she had been bold enough to text him.
How’s the head?
His response had been swift.
Perfectly fine, can’t imagine what you mean. Anything I said to you can and will be denied in a court of law
Not if I show that message to the judge
Dammit Tarth you caught me
Now we really DO have to have that fight
The ensuing exchange had her smiling for the rest of the week. She practically knew it by heart. She had assumed that that would be the end of their interaction until the next late night run-in, but incredibly, he had continued to message her.
It was almost easier to fall for him over text, somehow; perhaps because she was so close to being able to delude herself that he might have forgotten about her overlarge stature and ugly face. He liked to send her pictures, though they were hardly as filthy as her friends might imagine. Jaime sent her a picture of a shooting target riddled with bullet holes, captioned ‘That’s the last time he messes with me’. A mangled crash test dummy with flailing arms and bulging eyes, captioned ‘SAVE ME BRIENNE’. A fluffy ginger cat rubbing its face against Jaime’s beautiful perfect leg, captioned ‘Would it be a crime to steal this mighty orange beast and take him home with me in my jacket????’ On one occasion he sent a picture of himself, all freshly shaved and showered with damp hair, his green eyes gleaming. Brienne felt a literal pang in her actual heart and debated going to the doctor, but ultimately decided that such poetic ailments probably didn’t have real-life cures. He had only wanted to ask for her advice about which tie he should wear to a party.
She sent him pictures too, though none of herself. She sent him a streaky pink and peach sunrise while she was out for her morning run; the thickest pile of boards she had broken in jiu jitsu yet; a pizza Arya had forgotten she had put in the oven which had turned to a solid charcoal disc; a pile of rusted Tesco trollies in the creek, captioned with ‘When will you lot start tackling the REAL crimes in this country?’
This quiet, distanced friendship had affected Brienne more than she could articulate. It was as though he had lit a cosy tea-light somewhere deep inside her chest which had previously always been empty and cold and dark. Yet even as she felt pathetically grateful for every crumb of attention he scattered her way, she found herself desperately craving more, though she knew he could never want her the way she longed for him.
Seeing him in person once again only served to dully cement that fact into her head. He was wearing a dark blue suit and a crisp white shirt, hair all artfully tousled, looking like he’d just finished shooting a designer watch advert; and there she was, as bulky and unfeminine as ever in her polo shirt and stab vest, being ironically wooed by a gobby Bristolian wanker.
‘Course we’re not giving her trouble!’ Hyle said to Jaime, grinning. ‘And even if we were, she can’t touch us. Much as she might like to.’
‘I’d rather touch a dead badger on the side of the motorway,’ snapped Brienne. ‘Down, now.’
‘You’re so hot when you get forceful,’ said Hyle.
‘Are you aware that the way you are speaking to Brienne here legally constitutes sexual harassment?’ enquired Jaime.
Hyle snorted. ‘What are you on about, mate? She’s loving it.’
‘If that’s how you think a woman looks when she loves what you’re doing, then I extend my deepest sympathies to all your female acquaintances,’ said Jaime. ‘Now, I hate to break it to you like this, but I am in fact’ – he produced his badge from his jacket to a chorus of drunken groans – ‘a police officer. Are you going to get off the table and quietly leave the club, or do I need to start issuing fines for those joints you’re trying to hide behind your backs?’
Swearing, the lads jumped down from the table and made themselves scarce. Hyle was last to leave. He looked Jaime up and down, and turned to scowl at Brienne. ‘I bet you bloody love him, don’t you?’ he said sourly, before skulking away into the night.
Brienne’s face went from red to white faster than the Georgian flag in 2004 (she really had to work on her analogies). Oh God, had Jaime heard? He must have. She could barely look at him; couldn’t stand the thought of him looking at her and seeing the truth – because it was the truth, no matter how bitterly and sarcastically it had been said. And now Hyle had shown him without a shadow of a doubt that Brienne wasn’t just unattractive to golden gods, but to average-looking, double-denim-wearing blokes too. She wanted to scream, or cry, or spend the rest of her life as a cave-dwelling hermit. Preferably all of the above.
She felt like a blot on Jaime’s vision; an ugly smudge on the painting of the world created by those glittering green eyes. There was something so viscerally awful in being an ugly girl, in feeling as though she had failed society simply by existing. The same male gaze that looked at her housemates so appreciatively would inevitably greet her with bafflement, mockery or disgust; or even skate over her altogether as though she wasn’t there.
Somehow, Margaery’s insistence on bleaching Brienne’s hair had almost made it worse. Whether or not she actually looked better, she couldn’t say, but she indisputably looked as though she had made an effort – as though she cared how she looked. Not only was this the very definition of polishing a turd, it also made her feel awkwardly lopsided, the juxtaposition of the white-blonde hair seeming to throw the plainness of her face into even sharper relief.
She was clever, strong and kind, and she knew right from wrong; her moral compass never wavering from due north. As a friend, daughter, student, and employee, she was above reproach, and she had yet to meet anyone she couldn’t beat the stuffing out of if she wanted. But the thought of herself as a romantic partner – as a sexual being – filled her with a sense of inadequacy and shame so acute it was akin to being stabbed in the chest with a knitting needle; fittingly, the eternal spinster’s weapon of choice.
In those rare moments when she was able to picture herself in an actual relationship – and they were bloody rare – she had always sort of assumed she would end up with someone a bit like her dad. Someone kind, above all things. Good-natured, smiling, plain, perhaps a little bit overweight; maybe not as intelligent as she might have hoped, but certainly nothing to complain about. Nothing worth breaking up over, just… not a bloke who would ever really light her up, or make her feel all squirmy. She had come to terms with it. It was fine.
She hadn’t ever dared to hope for someone like Jaime.
‘Brienne,’ he said, in the gentlest of tones. She couldn’t face him. She could feel the pity coming off him in waves.
Mercifully, the universe put her out of her misery by cutting through the awfulness of the long silence between them with a crackle of Brienne’s walkie-talkie.
‘Tarth, we need you out front pronto,’ said Jeor’s voice. ‘The bloody Mayor’s started another punch-up.’
This chapter is brought to you by all the times that I, a True Goblin, have flat-out ignored a man because he was Too Handsome to look at.
I delved hardcore into all my deepest insecurities to write the last chapter, and it was both heartening and incredibly sad that so many of you found it so relatable. I may not have seen any of you, but I know for a fact that you are all WAAAAAAYYYY hotter than you think you are, and this stupid capitalist patriarchal hellhole we are forced to inhabit can take its ridiculously narrow standards of beauty and shove them up its arse.
Asha stubbed out her fag, retrieved her phone from her pocket, aimed it at the Mayor and started filming. She was never one to miss a fight, and this one was shaping up to be a right fucking corker.
By and large, it had been an unremarkable night. She had run out of fags, and had popped out front of Babylon to scrounge some from any passers-by who were too drunk to refuse. This operation had been a mild success, but now she was getting peckish, and nobody seemed willing to shout her a portion of chips. Meera was at home and Brienne was working, and Arya kept sending sweaty videos of herself and the handsome Mr Waters jumping about like loons to some very shouty music. Metal was all well and good, Asha reflected, but nothing compared to a good old-fashioned sea shanty.
Sansa was busy sending a series of long and possibly filthy texts to Sandor in between dancing with Jeyne, who had briefly got off with Osfryd and was presumably regretting it now he wouldn’t stop trying to grind up on her arse. Asha had advised him to watch Planet Earth, in the hope that he might learn a somewhat more skilled mating display.
Margaery had found a bloke to take home for the night, as she always did. Osney seemed like a decent choice; he was pretty enough that Asha might have gone for him herself if she hadn’t been getting such a good seeing-to from her weed dealer every time she saw him. Qarl might not have any facial hair (or indeed chest hair) but he had plenty of other extremely positive attributes. The hair on his head was present and correct, and it was lovely and long and soft. Given the fact that she very rarely saw him with a shirt on, the overall effect was that he looked a bit like a skinny, pale, stoned version of Fabio. Didn't sound too appealing when you put it like that, but Christ almighty, was it working for her. The other day, Asha had accused him of casting some sort of spell on her with his magic dick. His response had been remarkably coy, and she wasn’t convinced she hadn’t been right.
Anyway, magic or otherwise, Qarl’s dick was compelling enough that no one who was out in Babylon tonight was rousing much interest in Asha’s loins – and she had pretty enthusiastic loins, as a rule. Perhaps they were being dampened by the lurking spectre of St George’s Day. The bloody English. So proud of their history of violent conquest. They’d rocked up in Ireland in 1169 and hadn’t fucked off since.
Old Mayor Baratheon was a man out of time, Asha thought idly as she watched him haranguing his brothers by the taxi rank. He would have fit right in as some fat medieval lord, sailing over to Dublin to bash insurgents about the head with a big fat club. In the twenty-first century, he was a joke, a bit of local colour; only elected because people thought it would be funny. And if he disgraced himself as thoroughly as it looked like he was about to, he was soon to be un-elected. Hopefully Asha’s video would take him down. She wasn’t above taking a bit of petty revenge on the English government for the honour of her fallen ancestors. Besides, it would make her a tidy wad of cash.
‘For fuck’s sake, Ren,’ the Mayor was saying. ‘You’re supposed to be the fun one. We’re brothers. If you can’t take a bit of banter from me, how the hell d’you cope with day-to-day life?’
‘You know, for the most part, I don’t actually get this kind of abuse in day-to-day life,’ said Ren, who was getting into a taxi with his fed-up looking boyfriend. ‘Times have changed, Bob. We’re not in school any more. Enjoy the strip club, all right? I’ll see you later.’
‘Right,’ said the Mayor, wheeling about to face his other brother as the taxi door slammed shut and Ren sped off. ‘Stan, it’s just me and you, so pull that stick out of your arse and come down the Spearmint Rhino. You were straight once, you can do it again for one sodding night. My lap is bloody begging to have a lovely girl writhing about on it.’
‘Well, I’m sure you don’t need me to spectate,’ said Stan coldly. Stick nothing – he had a whole country park up his arse if Asha was any judge. She supposed it had been inevitable, with the Mayor for a brother.
‘Not spectate,’ blustered the Mayor. ‘Bloody well join in and have a laugh. The divorce has finally gone through! I can put my todger wherever I please, and I damn well intend to.’
Stan’s response was drowned out by an oncoming group of lads who started cheering and chanting ‘BOBBY B! BOBBY B!’ as soon as they saw the Mayor, who greeted them with great enthusiasm. Selfies were taken, high-fives were exchanged, and a genial invitation to join the Mayor at the strip club was warmly extended, while Stan ground his teeth in the background. As soon as the lads had moved on, he grabbed the Mayor by the shoulders, fairly spitting with fury.
‘Have you absolutely no shame?’ Stan demanded. Asha zoomed in on his face, to better capture the way the vein in his temple was pulsing angrily.
‘What the hell are you on about?’ said the Mayor.
‘Do you have no sense of duty, of decency, of pride in your office? You have been entrusted with a tremendous amount of responsibility to the city, and quite frankly, all you do is piss on it. Today should have been spent attending the Scouts’ St George’s Day parade, not drinking shots with your lawyer to commemorate the end of your ridiculously drawn-out and overly publicised divorce proceedings. You are a local embarrassment and a national joke, and you are not going to this sordid Spearmint Rhino establishment. You are going to get in a taxi, go home, and bloody well sober up.’
The Mayor drew himself up to his full height, which was considerable.
‘I’d like to see you make me, you wet bastard,’ he said. ‘I fucking run this city.’
‘Which would explain why the buses are never on time,’ said Stan.
‘Like you’d know anything about my bloody buses, you bicycle-riding ponce –’
Along with a growing crowd of onlookers, Asha observed the flinging of insults between the two brothers with great enjoyment. She remembered old Stan’s doomed campaign for the Mayorship; the posters of him frowning with folded arms and the catchphrase ‘It is time to be sensible’ had been subject to much amusing graffiti. Old Bobby had won the people’s vote with posters of him kissing babies (many of them his own) and winking over a few cheeky pints. No wonder Stan was so bitter.
The Mayor was the first to throw a punch, and Asha got a great shot of it. Stannis dodged it, but he couldn’t dodge them all, and had to start fighting back. It wasn’t particularly impressive, as fights went; they were both big blokes, but the Mayor had a belly on him, and his level of inebriation was such that it rendered even Stan, with all his determined dignity, into something ridiculous.
The crowd began to chant, mostly for Bobby B, but in the interest of fairness, Asha started calling ‘Stan! Stan! Stan!’ and a few people joined in.
‘Stop chanting!’ snapped Stan, and got a bop in the head for getting distracted.
It wasn’t long before Brienne came running out, with Detective Jaime the Dreamboat hot on her heels. There was one other bouncer present, a miserable-looking fecker with a shite beard, but he was mostly on the fringe of the fight, evidently reluctant to lay his hands on the Mayor. Far too moral to suffer from such scruples, Brienne dived right into the fray and began to bodily drag the two brothers apart. Jaime followed suit.
‘Brienne! Brienne!’ Asha chanted gleefully, zooming in again as Brienne ducked the Mayor’s fat fist, seized it, and wrenched it behind his back while he howled in pain.
‘What the hell is going on?’ demanded Jeyne, materialising at Asha’s side with a pissed-up Sansa in tow. ‘Is that the Mayor?’
‘You bet your arse it is,’ said Asha. ‘PIN HIM, BRIENNE!’
Exactly what happened next was unclear, and would remain so, no matter how many times Asha watched the video afterwards. All she knew was that one moment Brienne was standing behind the Mayor and restraining him by his wrists, and the next she was straddling his broad back while he lay flat on the pavement, effing and blinding like mad, but unable to escape her hold.
The crowd whooped and cheered. Stan wrenched himself out of Jaime’s grip and stalked off down the road, followed by a few hooting lads. Brienne was addressing the Mayor in full security mode – ‘We’re just going to stay here for a little while, all right, Mr Baratheon? When you’re feeling a bit calmer, then we can get up’ – while Jaime looked at her, as dazed and adoring as if she had rescued him from a bear attack.
Well, Stan could arguably be considered a bear. He was big and hairy enough. Though he hadn’t exactly been the aggressor – perhaps Mayor Attack would be a more appropriate term.
‘Get off me, you great big bitch!’ the Mayor was shouting. He was struggling desperately, his face growing increasingly purple. ‘In a fair fight I’d bloody have you. It was three against one!’
‘We weren’t trying to fight you, Mr Baratheon,’ said Brienne calmly. ‘We’re not on his side, or yours. It’s nothing personal. It’s just my job to deal with any disagreements. And things were getting a bit messy back there, weren’t they?’
‘They’ll get messier before I’m through with you. Can’t even have a sodding night on the town without you spoiling my fun, you ugly cow –’
‘Who are you calling ugly, you fat shite?’ yelled Asha.
‘Asha, don’t antagonise him,’ said Brienne sternly.
‘Why not? I didn’t vote for him. He tried to chat me up in Spoons last year and he was a right old perv.’
The Mayor squinted up at her.
‘I bloody remember you,’ he shouted. ‘Took all the free drinks, didn’t you, and then snuck out the back exit –’
Asha put a wounded hand to her chest and batted her eyelashes. ‘Mr Mayor, I was an innocent teenage girl, and you were a married man.’
‘You tried to steal my chain of office, you bloody pikey!’
‘Prove it, mate.’
‘Asha, enough,’ said Brienne. Asha winked at her and mimed zipping her lips shut.
‘This is harassment!’ bellowed the Mayor. ‘If you don’t get off me, I’ll have you out of a job.’
‘Mr Baratheon, as soon as you show me that you’re feeling calm and you won’t throw any more punches, I’ll happily let you up.’
‘Calm? How bloody calm would you be, pinned to the ground by a killjoy woman with an axe to grind –’
‘Bob, there are no axes being ground here,’ said Jaime. ‘No one wants to fight you. You’re drunk, and Stannis was being a miserable git as usual, and it pissed you off. We get it, OK? You’re allowed to be annoyed. But she can’t let you up until you calm down.’
The Mayor whipped his head up to stare at Jaime in absolute fury, seemingly having only just realised who he was.
‘You,’ he hissed, redoubling his efforts to break free. ‘You have some bloody nerve to show up here. Twenty-three years of nagging and screaming and bratty kids and rotten fucking attitude from your paranoid, demented, ice-cold cunt of a sister, and you have the audacity to show your identical fucking face on the night I’m finally free of her, to ruin what should have been the best time I’ve had in years? Take your one hand and shove it up your arse. It’s probably how you lost the first one.’
The crowd gasped, and began to mutter. Eyes involuntarily flickered to Jaime’s hands, only one of which clenched into a fist. The other remained perfectly, unnaturally still.
Asha shut off her camera at once, feeling a bit guilty for having filmed such a personal revelation. Seemingly aware that he had finally gone too far, the Mayor stopped struggling and sagged against the pavement, panting like a winded elephant.
Jaime’s face was white. He and Brienne were staring at one another.
‘Happy St George’s Day, everyone,’ said the other bouncer gloomily. ‘What a lovely jolly time we’re all having.’
To be fair to old Bob, once he’d got back on his feet and dusted himself off, he did apologise.
‘Shouldn’t have gone there, mate,’ he said gruffly, pulling Jaime into a bone-crushing embrace. ‘Plenty of material to work when it comes to insulting you, and I went below the belt. Won’t happen again. You just look so much like bloody Cersei, and it brought out the worst in me.’
So did the booze, Jaime thought, but he knew better than to say it when this fragile peace had been brokered. He packed Bob off home in a taxi and waited for Brienne to finish filling out her incident report, which she was doing with meticulous care.
Jaime wished she would give him that kind of attention. She always seemed to be avoiding his eye. He hoped it was out of shyness, but there was every chance she wanted to ditch the lonely thirty-nine-year-old amputee copper in favour of some youthful muscled giant at her jiu jitsu classes. No, that wasn’t fair to her; he knew she liked him. She’d never be able to conceal it if she didn’t; she had the widest, kindest, most open and guileless eyes he’d ever seen. It had been the first thing that had drawn him to her. Well, the second thing. The first thing had been the way she had bodyslammed that attacker without even breaking a sweat.
The third thing had been… well, to be honest, it had been everything else about her. Given his established preference for vampy seductive blondes, developing an overwhelming attraction to a muscular androgynous lady-giant had been a bit of a surprise. However, his past choices certainly hadn’t worked out particularly well for him, and since he couldn’t stop fantasising about Brienne pinning him to a wall and having her way with him, he decided to roll with it. Tiny details about her seemed to leap out at him and catch in his mind, like raindrops on a cobweb. The way the light caught on the fine white-blonde hairs on her beautifully sculpted arms. The fact that she hardly ever seemed to swear; her speech verged on the school ma’am-ish, and it was a fascinating contradiction against the brutal efficiency of her beatdowns. The way she never seemed to have an unkind word to say about anyone, not even the drunken morons she dealt with day in and day out. The way her blushes spread along her cheekbones, to the shell of her ears, down her neck and indeterminately further underneath her frustratingly modest attire.
The problem was that even after months of texting, it still felt like all of his jokes and flirting (and that one selfie he’d sent when he’d been feeling particularly chiselled) were failing to land. She was just so determinedly friendly and kind that there was absolutely sod all to indicate that she might return his feelings. The only hint of attraction on her part was her shyness around him, and absurdly endearing though it was, it hardly constituted enthusiastic interest. He had therefore decided that it was time he made an actual move.
The problem was that he had never really done that before, and was feeling incredibly awkward about it.
Jaime wasn’t the only one who was waiting for Brienne to finish her shift; three of her friends were sat on a low wall outside the club, eating chicken nuggets. He vaguely recognised them; there was a redhead who was so immersed in her food that she didn’t even register his existence, and then there was a brunette and that mouthy Irish girl. He saw their eyes flicker to his prosthetic hand and had to force himself not to shove it in his pocket.
‘Brienne’ll not be long,’ said the Irish girl. ‘I’m Asha, that’s Jeyne and Sansa. Going to give us a police escort home, are you?’
‘Something like that,’ said Jaime. ‘Did you really try to steal the Mayor’s chain?’
Asha grinned at him and blew out a puff of smoke.
‘Like I’d tell you if I did, copper. Told me he liked his women feisty, didn’t he, like a fecking cartoon villain. Course, what he really wanted was a woman who only seems feisty, but is actually just begging for a shag from a middle-aged piss artist. Feisty is a bloody patronising word, if you ask me. No one ever says a bloke is feisty. It’s always women or pets.’
‘I’ve never really thought about it,’ Jaime admitted.
‘You’ve never had to,’ said Jeyne, eyebrows raised. ‘You’re a bloke.’
‘I suppose that’s true,’ he said, doing his best to sound apologetic.
Sansa looked up at him for the first time, and her face broke into a blindingly bright smile.
‘It’s you!’ she said. ‘I remember you from Bonfire Night! I remember everything from Bonfire Night.’
She giggled tipsily. The others rolled their eyes.
‘You have to tell us the truth,’ Sansa ordered him. ‘You like Brienne, don’t you? I’ve tried telling her you do, but she doesn’t believe me. But it’s so obvious, and you’d be so cute together, because you’re both blondes who fight crime. And if you don’t like her, then what’s your problem? Brienne is the best.’
‘Wow,’ said Jeyne. ‘Subtle.’
‘I don’t want to be subtle!’ said Sansa. ‘Look at her over there, filling out those forms. She has very neat handwriting. I hope you appreciate that,’ she added darkly to Jaime.
‘I absolutely do,’ Jaime reassured her, having learned in all his years of dealing with drunk women that sometimes the best one could do was simply nod along. His mind, however, was elsewhere. I’ve tried telling her you do, but she doesn’t believe me. Could that be what was holding Brienne back? He didn’t know how she could have missed it – he hadn’t exactly been subtle in his interest. He hadn't even buttoned up his shirt in the 'which tie should I wear' selfie. Surely that was a clear sign? It was basically a middle-class mating call.
‘Good,’ said Sansa, happy once more. ‘Can we go now, please? I’m trying to booty call Sandor, and he is going to be most put out if he gets to the house and my booty isn’t there. ’
‘Made things up, have you?’ said Asha.
‘No,’ said Sansa. ‘But it’s been a week.’
‘And your man’s slinging dick, isn’t he?’ said Asha. Sansa nodded mournfully. ‘Fair enough. You’re not made of stone. Here, let me finish your nuggets.’
Not for the first time, Jaime wondered just what the hell he was doing, chasing after someone so much younger than him. These girls were Brienne’s friends, her peers; they were half his age, and it bloody showed. Brienne was a good deal more sensible than this lot, certainly, but that didn’t mean the age gap wasn’t there. Yet here he was, hanging around waiting for her to finish her shift, definitely skirting the line of ethical behaviour for a police officer, and all because whenever his phone lit up with a message from her it made his organs do a rather alarming lurch.
Christ, he was pathetic.
‘Coming now,’ Brienne called to her friends, and Jaime couldn’t help but stare as she jogged over. Black boots, black trousers, black polo shirt, black stab vest. Absurdly muscled arms. No makeup. She was so tall, her white-blonde hair buzzed short at the back and sides and falling about her face on top. Usually when he saw her it was slicked back out of the way, but restraining Bob had dishevelled her somewhat. She looked like an action hero at the end of a movie, glowing with past exertion and ready to down a beer.
‘Jaime,’ she said, averting her eyes. ‘You didn’t have to wait.’
He felt absurdly conscious of the prosthetic hand. Was she looking at it? He could hardly put it in his pocket without drawing even more attention to the damn thing. She wanted to get rid of him already, didn’t she? Cersei certainly had – Well, what do you expect me to say, Jaime? We’ve always been honest with each other. I’m not about to lie to you now. The stump is ugly. You know it, and I know it, so what’s the point in pretending? To tell you the truth, it makes me sick just thinking about it.
‘Thought I’d give you all a lift home,’ Jaime said, with forced jocularity. ‘Save you getting a taxi. As long as that one doesn’t throw up in the car, anyway.’ He nodded towards Sansa.
‘A lift?’ Brienne’s brow creased. ‘But are you OK to drive?’
Fuck. She’d definitely been looking at the hand.
‘I’ve got a modified steering wheel, actually,’ he said, aware that there was something of a bite to his tone. ‘I promise you I can still drive a car.’
‘What? But – oh, no!’ Brienne gasped, her cheeks flaming scarlet. ‘I didn’t – I wasn’t – I only meant that it’s almost three AM, and you’re out, and – haven’t you been drinking?’
‘Oh,’ said Jaime, feeling his own face flush. ‘Right. Erm. No, I haven’t, actually. I was working late, and somebody reported a body in the creek, so we went to check it out, but it turned out to be an art installation made out of dredged-up litter. A student thing. Anyway, I was in the area, and you hadn’t replied to my message, so I – I thought you were probably at work, and I’d come and say hello…’
He trailed off. That had certainly sounded creepier than he’d wanted it to. He’d never had to worry about seeming creepy before. What on earth was this ridiculously buff woman doing to him?
‘Oh,’ said Brienne. She smiled tentatively. ‘That makes sense. Sorry, I should have known you wouldn’t have offered if you’d had a drink.’
‘It’s a bit illegal,’ Jaime agreed, unable to help smiling back.
‘Just a bit,’ she said, her deep blue eyes fairly glowing with warmth. Lovely, lovely Brienne. She had to fancy him. Didn’t she?
‘Right, well, as adorable as this is, my arse is going to sleep,’ said Asha, getting to her feet. ‘Can we get a shift on? Sansa’s booty is on a tight schedule.’
All throughout the drive, Jaime could sense the girls sneaking glances at his prosthesis. It was a sensation he ought to have become used to by now, three years down the line, but he never had. In fairness, was there anybody on earth who could handle having their driving scrutinised without getting tense, no matter how many hands they had? There wasn’t even really anything to look at; the prosthetic hand locked onto the steering wheel, and his left hand did everything else.
There was little conversation between himself and Brienne, though he knew she was looking at him out of the corner of her eye. Asha attempted to engage him in a discussion about the merits of anarchy and whether or not he considered himself to be a tool of a fascist state, but Jaime had been a copper all his adult life, and had heard it all before. He offered no reply and let her rant about whatever she liked, which turned out to be the societal importance of communal vegetable gardens. She didn’t stop until Brienne interjected ‘Here,’ and Jaime parked in front of a crumbling red brick townhouse with an overgrown front lawn.
The three girls in the backseat tumbled out cheerfully, thanking him for the lift and searching for their keys. Brienne and Jaime followed more slowly. Seconds later, a giant man on a motorbike pulled up in front of the car, and took off his helmet to reveal long hair and a scarred face. Sansa let out a delighted cry, running over and draping herself across him before he could so much as get off the bike.
‘Sandor,’ she said grandly. ‘Have you come to have sex with me?’
‘Er.’ Sandor glanced at Jaime, looking distinctly on edge. ‘Only if you want me to.’
There was no need for him to be so embarrassed about it; Jaime was actually very glad he was no longer the only adult man in the vicinity who wanted to shag an attractive student. It had been making him feel quite grubby. Given the amount of flowers Sansa was wearing, and Sandor’s black leather jacket and general fuck-off vibe, the two of them rather looked as though they were about to engage in some saucy Hades and Persephone role-play. Jaime wondered which Ancient Greek gods he and Brienne might be best suited to. Apollo and Athena, perhaps; Brienne would certainly look good in armour. He sneaked another look at her, standing there frowning at Sandor. Armour and a big sword.
‘Sure I’m the one you want?’ Sandor was saying to Sansa, with a pathetic attempt at a casual, unbothered sort of tone. ‘I saw Margaery’s photo and thought I’d been replaced.’
‘What photo?’ said Sansa, and he retrieved his phone to show her. All of the girls delved for their phones too, opening up Instagram to a picture of a flashy-looking brunette girl Jaime vaguely recognised from Bonfire Night, posing with a dark-haired lad. In the background, Sansa appeared to be having an intense conversation with a big bloke who definitely was not Sandor.
‘What, him?’ Sansa burst into giggles. ‘That’s just Osbert.’
‘Osfryd,’ Brienne corrected her.
‘Whatever. He tried to touch my leg, didn’t he, Brienne? Yuck.’ She turned back to Sandor and poked him in his huge chest. ‘And he said I should dump you, but I told him I can’t dump you, because you’re not my boyfriend, because you don’t even want to go on a date with me.’
‘What?’ Sandor appeared thoroughly baffled. He shot another nervy look at Jaime and the girls, and lowered his voice. ‘Of course I bloody want to.’
‘Then why did you tell me that if you had to take me to Nando’s one more time you’d stab yourself in the eye with a toothpick?’
Unlike her not-boyfriend, Sansa was not troubling herself to lower her voice. Some of the neighbours had cracked open their windows to eavesdrop. Fortunately they looked equally as student-y as the girls, so there was little chance of there being a noise complaint. Jaime certainly didn’t need to deal with that on top of everything else that had happened this evening.
‘Because I’m sick to death of bastard Nando’s, you daft woman,’ said Sandor. ‘What is it with you and that bloody place? No one in there is a day over twenty-two, and they all look at me like I’ve escaped a sodding retirement home.’
‘I like Nando’s,’ protested Sansa, but she was laughing.
‘You like eating about five of those custard tarts in one sitting, is what you like,’ grumbled Sandor. ‘You want a date? Fine. I’m taking you out tomorrow, and we’re going to a bloody steakhouse. Happy now?’
‘Yes,’ said Sansa, beaming up at him, and finally clambering down from his lap so he could get off his bike. ‘How did you even see that picture of me, anyway? You don’t have Instagram.’
‘Well, yeah,’ Sandor muttered, ‘but you made that stupid account for the dog on my phone, and I missed you, so – all right, don’t look so bloody smug. It’s been a week!’
‘Ah, true love,’ said Asha, shaking her head sagely, and following the happily bickering not-couple into the house, pulling Jeyne along with her. Asha cast Jaime a significant look, nodded theatrically at Brienne, gave him the thumbs-up, topped it off with a wink just in case he hadn’t quite got the message, and shut the front door firmly behind her.
Suddenly he found himself quite alone with Brienne, who was eyeing him as fearfully as though he were a sabre-toothed tiger. Quick, make conversation. Ask her which Greek goddess she thinks she’d be. Ask her how she likes her toast! No, that’s terrible – even the eavesdroppers have given up and closed their windows. Say something. Anything!
‘I’m sorry about Bob,’ he ventured. ‘He was my brother-in-law for quite some time, as you may have gathered. He can be, well… difficult.’
‘What, the Mayor?’ Brienne shrugged. ‘I’m used to him. All part of the job, isn’t it?’
She wasn’t posturing or being faux-modest, the way so many young police recruits did; Bob truly hadn’t fazed her. Jaime shook his head admiringly.
‘For you, maybe,’ he said. ‘I certainly wasn’t paid to put up with him for nineteen Christmases straight. It might have sweetened the deal a bit. He insists upon dressing up as Father Christmas, but he always ends up drunk and aggressive. Every year the kids are traumatized afresh.’
Brienne laughed. ‘Poor things. You could always dress as an elf to make it up to them.’
‘Oh yes, very bloody fetching.’
‘It would suit you,’ she said, smiling. ‘Nothing wrong with getting into the holiday spirit. Well, apart from today.’
‘Today?’ echoed Jaime. ‘Oh, right, it’s St George’s Day. That would explain why everyone is this drunk on a Tuesday.’
‘Did you know the story about him slaying the dragon is only a metaphor?’ said Brienne. She looked inordinately disappointed about this development.
‘A metaphor for what?’ Jaime asked, hesitantly stepping closer. He was itching to comfort her. He wasn’t big on literary analysis, but he did have two well-toned pectorals upon which she might rest her weeping head. Not that she was weeping at this precise moment in time, but the night was young.
Well, all right, no it wasn’t, but that was all the more reason to make himself available.
‘Edd said it’s something to do with converting foreigners to Christianity,’ said Brienne, her nose wrinkling in distaste. ‘It would’ve been better if it was a real dragon.’
‘Who’s Edd?’ said Jaime, before he could stop himself. ‘That lad who was hassling you?’
Her cheeks flared red. She stepped back, folded her arms and looked at the ground.
‘No, that was Hyle,’ she muttered.
‘Keen on you, isn’t he?’ said Jaime. Brienne snorted.
‘He’s on my course,’ she said bitterly, ‘and he doesn’t like that a girl gets better grades than he does. So he tries to assert dominance, like an ape. I wish he’d just try to fight me.’
‘Hey now, don’t go fighting all the men who fancy you,’ said Jaime, his heart hammering. ‘I’d rather it were just me.’
‘He doesn’t fancy me,’ snapped Brienne. ‘He thinks it’s funny to - to pretend, that’s all. I don’t want to talk about him.’
‘Well… good,’ said Jaime, taken aback by the anger in her voice. ‘I was talking about myself.’
‘You?’ said Brienne, looking baffled. ‘Oh, of course, I remember. You want a fight. But not now, surely? I'm a bit knackered.’
‘Not now, no,’ said Jaime. He ran his hand through his hair and made a nervous attempt at what was usually his most dashing smile. ‘I was hoping we could have dinner first.’
Brienne pulled a face, and his stomach plummeted.
‘That doesn’t even make sense,’ she said. ‘Why would we fight on a full stomach? That’s just asking to be thrown up on.’
‘For the love of God,’ Jaime muttered. It was time to give up on his suave one liners, since they were clearly not getting through. ‘Tarth. Listen to me. Forget the fight, OK? I am asking you out to dinner. On a – on a date.’
Writing Jaime is DIFFICULT, guys. I think I accidentally channeled Hugh Grant.
I don't know how I thought I could write this scene in only one chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Judging from her physical symptoms, Brienne was having some sort of attack.
A heart attack seemed the most likely option, given the way it was pounding; yet this could equally have meant that she was having a panic attack. She was short on breath, so it could have been an asthma attack – she had never experienced one before, but if anyone could cause adult-onset asthma purely through the power of handsomeness, it was Jaime.
‘Brienne?’ he said uncertainly.
She waved her hand at him rapidly, trying to signify that she was totally fine, that this was a normal situation which happened to her all the time and had in no way completely buggered her ability to breathe.
‘Are you all right?’ he asked.
‘Are you?’ Brienne managed to wheeze. It was a valid question. Perhaps he’d been hit on the head during the scuffle with the Mayor, and it had caused him to make outlandish offers that in no way reflected his true desires. She stared at him, presumably with an expression of bug-eyed panic. He didn’t seem concussed – he was upright and alert and lucid, and he had driven them all here with no incidents –
‘I think so?’ said Jaime. ‘But you look… erm. Perturbed. I feel like I’ve upset you. Is – is it about my hand?’
‘What?’ Brienne gaped at him. He looked thoroughly miserable, and she was arrested by the urge to pulverise whoever had put such a heart-breaking expression on his beautiful face.
‘Well,’ he said, swallowing. ‘I know it’s not – it’s off-putting. I don’t blame you. No one wants to see that. I’m probably too old for you anyway, you must want someone who doesn’t make a noise when he gets off the sofa –’
Oh God. Oh God.
He had meant it.
He had asked her out, and he had meant it, and now he thought SHE was turning HIM down? And why wouldn’t he believe that, when she had stammered and hyperventilated and looked at him as though he was a few sandwiches short of a picnic, and overall come across as some kind of monster who would refuse to date someone because they had a disability?
She was going to have to pulverise herself.
She knew the words he was saying; she had had the same old script inside her own head ever since she was a little girl, and had memorised it line by line until it became part of who she was. Words of self-hated, knife-sharp and poisonous, yet phrased to downplay, to minimise, to turn the bone-deep loathing into a joke, into something that was Fine and Normal, and Just Had To Be Accepted. Watching Jaime voice these self-deceptions with a faux-casual script of his own made her want to cry. Was this how her friends felt, when they heard her hurt herself with words?
She had waited too long to respond. Jaime sighed.
‘Look, don’t worry about it, all right?’ he said. ‘It was just a – a thought. You don’t have to say yes –’
‘Wait - yes!’ Brienne blurted, cold with terror at his backtracking. ‘Yes, yes, yes! That would be – I’d – you’re – yes.’
‘Yes?’ His eyes lit up with hope. ‘You don’t mind too much about my hand?’
Brienne shook her head so rapidly that it started to hurt. ‘I don’t mind about anything,’ she said, somewhat nonsensically, but her earnestness must have been apparent because Jaime was smiling at her, his eyes crinkling warmly at the corners. It was like being smiled at by a god, or the sun, or possibly a secret fourth Hemsworth brother who had been hidden away from the world for being too attractive.
‘Well… good,’ said Jaime. ‘There’s a great little Thai place in town. It has a koi pond. Food’s decent too, of course, but I really like the pond. Would you – would you like to go? Together?’
He looked absurdly eager, like a golden retriever gazing at a string of sausages. Brienne had never eaten Thai food in her life and had a tendency to go bright red in the face and need to down a gallon of milk if she ingested anything remotely spicy, but she wasn’t about to say so, not with the way he was gazing at her. That was a problem for Future Brienne to worry about. Here and now, against all sense and reason, Detective Inspector Jaime Lannister had asked her out – really, truly asked her, not as some stupid joke – and told her he’d been hoping she would say yes. He could have asked her if she fancied going through some bins with him to scavenge for leftover kebab meat and she would have gone along with it.
‘That sounds perfect,’ she said faintly.
‘Great,’ he said, beaming at her. ‘How’s Thursday? I know you work over the weekend. We could maybe go for a few drinks after dinner, or for a walk somewhere? Only if you want.’
Oh, Brienne wanted. She wanted so much she could practically taste it.
This would go a long way towards explaining why, despite her shyness and awkwardness and total lack of experience in the World of Love and Shagging, her mouth opened seemingly of its own accord and said, ‘Do you want to come inside?’
Brienne tried to look at her own mouth in shock, but the vagaries of evolution had rendered such a thing impossible. Instead, she settled for staring rather owlishly at Jaime, blushing at her own unexpected boldness, her insides writhing around in agonies of nervousness as she awaited his answer. He looked a bit stunned, as though she had clubbed him around the head.
‘Er,’ he said. ‘Well. I mean. Yes.’
Sweet merciful God.
Brienne nodded, trying to seem confident and decisive and in no way spectacularly out of her depth. With any luck, Jaime would think she was a mature, sexually active woman who received gentleman callers on a regular basis, and not a gawky virgin who had never even been kissed, and who had had multiple lengthy daydreams about brushing his hair. She watched him lock his car, somehow managing to do even that small task in a way that made him look like a movie star arriving at a film premiere.
Horribly conscious of just how unflattering her trousers were, heart thundering like a freight train, Brienne led him into the house.
He started to say something as they ascended the first flight of stairs, but she shushed him, shaking her head. Only when they were safely ensconced in her bedroom with the door bolted shut did she permit herself to speak.
‘Sorry, but if any of the others had heard you, they would’ve come out for a chat, and we’d never hear the end of it.’
‘Ah,’ said Jaime lightly. ‘Not ashamed of me, are you? I’m housebroken, I promise.’
Brienne let out an ungainly snort, which turned into an alarmed coughing fit as the situation fully hit her. She was here, with Jaime, in her bedroom late at night, and he had asked her out. He was looking around her tiny, L-shaped room with its wonky Ikea furniture, taking in her single bed with its faded blue sheets, the mini cacti on the slightly mouldy windowsill, the photos of her father and brother and jiu jitsu team pinned to the noticeboard, the neat piles of library books on her desk. It was a strangely vulnerable sensation to have him examine her bedroom, her private space, and she felt bizarrely worried that he would laugh at it. She couldn’t have said what was going through his mind, but there was a little smile on his face.
He took a step towards her, and then another. She was rooted to the spot. The warmth and fondness in his eyes, the almost imperceptibly small twitches of his lips – they couldn’t be for her. Surely there had been some mistake, and he would saunter right on past her in search of better dating prospects? But no – he was stopping right in front of her, he was leaning in, closer and closer and –
Jaime jumped, and looked up in confusion in search of the source of the noise, and the sounds of swearing and giggling that followed it.
‘Sandor’s bumped his head,’ explained Brienne, whose room was directly beneath Sansa’s, and who was therefore horribly familiar with the myriad of R-rated sounds that tended to float downwards whenever Sandor was round. Biting her lip, she cast a nervous glance at the ceiling. If nothing else put Jaime off, surely this would?
A loud groan emanated from above. Jaime's eyes met hers, his lips pressed together and brows raised. There was a beat.
Sandor growled something that sounded unpleasantly like, ‘Spread those cheeks, princess,’ and Jaime and Brienne collapsed into appalled laughter.
‘I’m so sorry!’ Brienne gasped through an overpowering tide of giggles. ‘I forgot he was up there.’
‘Is it always this bad?’ asked Jaime, his shoulders shaking with amusement. ‘Or are they just feeling extra passionate now that the all-important Nando’s disagreement has been resolved?’
Brienne shook her head, smiling. ‘No, this is pretty standard for them. I wear my headphones a lot, but there are still some things I can’t unhear. Let me put some music on.’
However, as she booted up her ancient MP3 player which still clung stubbornly to life despite the fact that she’d had it since 2008, she was faced with a new problem. What on earth was she supposed to play in a situation like this? Her music collection was very much representative of herself, in that it largely consisted of women with provocatively unfeminine haircuts playing acoustic guitar and singing about how society had wronged them. There was very little in the way of Sexy Music. And was Sexy Music even appropriate? Maybe Jaime was just hoping for a chat. Finally she settled on the Dire Straits, in hopes that playing songs so intrinsically linked to her childhood and family would make her feel strong and safe, and a bit less like she was teetering on the brink of a beautiful yet terrifying chasm.
‘The Dire Straits?’ Jaime snorted. ‘How old do you think I am?’
‘Oh, ancient,’ said Brienne, grinning. ‘Tell me about the war. Have you still got your ration book?’
‘That,’ said Jaime, fighting back a smile of his own as he advanced on her once again, ‘is not funny.’
All of a sudden he was extremely close, and Brienne’s laughter faded. She nearly went cross-eyed trying to keep her gaze on his face, and her heart picked up speed until it was hammering enough to build a respectably-sized garden shed. Her back was against the wall, and although she had a couple of inches of height on him and almost certainly more martial arts training, she suddenly felt that she wouldn’t have been able to push him away if she’d tried. His hand skimmed lightly down her arm, raising goosebumps in its wake, and his fingers entangled warmly with hers. He had her feeling almost weak, but somehow it wasn’t an unpleasant sensation. Was this what it was like to feel... well, feminine? Jaime was looking at her as though she was something beautiful and precious, and with such openness and honesty shining out of his grass-green eyes, she could almost believe it was true.
He kept getting closer. He smelled sharp and clean. His eyelids were lowering, heavy, and the sight of them plucked at something deep in her stomach. He was going to kiss her. Should she tilt her head? That was what they always did in films, but how did they know which way to go? She was going to balls this right up, she could feel it.
His nose bumped gently against her own, and as his lips touched hers she could feel him smiling.
Jaime kissed her softly, as gentle with his mouth as he had always been with his eyes and voice. As Brienne’s lips moved with his, she realised with a jolt of relief that there was nothing to balls up; kissing Jaime came to her as instinctively as breathing. The flickering tea light he had lit inside her chest took a great gulp of the air they both shared and burst into a roaring log fire. She held tight to his hand, and bypassed the prosthetic on his right to clutch desperately at his shoulder. He kissed her harder, wrapping his arm around to hold her close, before pulling away and giving her a look that made her go wobblier than a pensioner on a double-decker bus.
‘What?’ said Brienne, her voice coming out almost as soft and girly as she felt. It was extremely unsettling, but Jaime didn’t seem to be complaining.
‘Would you mind taking off the stab vest?’ he said, laughing, looking a little dazed. ‘I promise I won’t attack.’
It was hardly an unreasonable request, so Brienne immediately obliged; yet as soon as she had undone the clasps, a wave of nerves rose up within her. It wasn’t that she was worried he would stab her (apart from symbolically, with his penis – stop it stop it stop it), but it couldn’t be denied that being strapped securely into the stab vest had made her feel safe. Now that she had taken off this one item of clothing, not only could he see for himself just how freckly and broad-shouldered and flat-chested she really was, but it also hinted at a veritable cornucopia of other clothes being discarded in the very near future. Shirts, trousers, knickers – all were liable to fly off at any moment now she’d opened up that particular Pandora’s Box.
Jaime shrugged off his jacket, which only fuelled her panic further, regardless of how stupidly good he looked in his clean white shirt. But then he leaned in and kissed her again, his hand warm on her back, drawing her towards him, and she sighed and melted into him like room-temperature butter coming into contact with some sexy, sexy toast. She could have kissed him for hours.
As the first song faded out to nothing, another sharp moan pierced the air from above – one of Sansa’s this time, the kind that was so theatrical it sounded like a piss-take. Despite her amusement, Brienne didn’t stop kissing Jaime right away. It was nice to be so close like this, their lips still mashed together as they both shook with laughter.
Finally Jaime drew back, shaking his head.
‘They’re really going for it,’ he said. ‘Hasn’t anyone told them to keep it down?’
‘Repeatedly,’ said Brienne. ‘They can’t seem to manage it. If Sansa would just shut her window it would be an improvement, but she says she needs the fresh air.’
‘She could do with a taste of her own medicine.’
‘From who? Sandor’s the only who bloke who ever comes round here.’
‘I’m a bloke,’ said Jaime, his eyes glinting in a way that made her feel like she needed to fan herself. ‘I’m here. Why not have a competition – who can scream the loudest?’
Brienne’s mouth fell open. ‘What?’ she hissed. She was blushing so hard she had most likely bypassed the colour red entirely and gone straight to purple. It felt like her entire head was going to explode.
‘I think we can do better than them,’ said Jaime. ‘Don’t you?’
His hand was at her hip, and it stole up to her waist and began to gently tug at the polo shirt she had tucked in so neatly. Her stomach sizzled with fear and shock and heat and want.
‘We can’t!’ she gasped, her hand closing around his wrist automatically. ‘They can’t hear us, Jaime!’
Just the thought of it was too embarrassing, too strange and new, too much. The girls would be happy for her, she knew that, but they would express it through teasing and innuendo, or in Sansa’s case, through a sweetness and sincerity that Brienne couldn’t help but interpret as both pitying and patronising when she was feeling particularly low.
‘All right!’ said Jaime, laughing, allowing her to push his hand away. ‘It was only a joke.’
‘I don’t want – that,’ said Brienne, biting her lip hard. ‘You don’t know what they’re like, Sansa doesn’t care what they say to her but I can’t – if they tease me about that –’
‘Brienne, it’s all right,’ said Jaime. ‘Honestly. I want you to be comfortable. And happy. And ideally, squashed up very close to me.’
He took her hand, raised it, and pressed his lips gently to her knuckles. Something inside her gently broke, like an… egg. Oh God, she was so attracted to him that it was clouding her brain and making her analogies even worse than usual.
‘We just have to be very quiet,’ she found herself whispering.
‘I can be quiet,’ said Jaime. He quirked a brow. ‘What would you like to do?’
'Spread those cheeks, princess' is the funniest thing I have ever written.
There was a lot of emotional stuff these two had to deal with before they could get to the sexy bit. I hope it is sufficiently sexy, because it was bloody difficult to write.
What would she like to do? A few things sprang to mind. One of them involved licking him all over, but as they hadn’t even been on their first date yet, now probably wasn’t the time to bring it up. So licking was out – but looking was OK, wasn’t it? Hesitant, unsure if it was even allowed, Brienne brought her hands up to play with the top button of Jaime’s shirt. She glanced at him, and he nodded. As she undid the buttons, she could feel his heart pounding beneath her fingertips.
The feeling gave her a strange surge of power, entirely different to all forms of strength and control she had previously understood. She wasn’t shoving him up against a wall or straddling him on the ground – although she had a funny idea he wouldn’t be opposed if she fancied trying it – but the effect she was having on him was undeniable. She liked it. A lot. And not just because more of his body was revealed with every moment, until he shrugged off the shirt entirely.
Jaime was so perfectly formed he could have been an illustration in a biology textbook, or possibly a windswept hero on the cover of a tawdry romance novel called Detective Inspector of my Dreams. Broad shoulders, tapering into a trim waist, with defined muscles on his arms and stomach. His skin was lightly tanned, the golden hair on his arms and chest glinting in the light of her lamp. The only thing about him that could conceivably be thought of as a flaw was the prosthetic hand.
‘Is it… comfy?’ Brienne asked him, reaching out and holding it and feeling a bit silly. ‘Is that a stupid question?’ She slid her hand up his arm to touch his skin instead, smooth and warm and alive, pulse beating just for her.
Well, not just for her. He did need it to live.
‘It’s comfier without it,’ Jaime admitted. ‘I only wear it so I’m not an obvious target. Hazards of the job, you know.’
‘You can take if off if you want to,’ she offered shyly. ‘I don’t mind.’
Jaime chewed on his bottom lip for a moment, his brow creased. Unable to help herself, Brienne leaned in and kissed him again, quick and light, over and over, until he was smiling again.
‘Are you sure?’ he asked. ‘I don’t want to put you off.’
‘Give me some credit,’ said Brienne. ‘It’s just an arm, Jaime.’
‘That’s the problem,’ said Jaime, but he gripped the prosthetic anyway, pressing at a point on the inner arm. There was a quiet click, and he removed the right hand entirely and laid it on her desk. Underneath he wore a padded white sleeve, which he fiddled with hesitantly.
‘I can leave this on if you want. I haven’t shown anybody – well, except one person, and she said it was disgusting –’
Brienne’s vaguely filthy thoughts of what Asha would have said at the sight of the sleeve (‘there’s only one appendage of yours I want to be sheathed tonight, and it’s not your fecking arm’) evaporated in the face of her anger at this mystery woman.
‘Well, tell her I think she’s disgusting!’ she said indignantly. ‘Thinking it’s all right to go around talking to people like their feelings don’t matter, like bodies have to be perfect, like there’s anything on the planet that could change the fact that you’re the most handsome man in the known universe –’
‘Finally, some recognition,’ said Jaime. ‘I didn’t think you’d noticed.’
Brienne glared at him, her cheeks hot, but before she could retort, he took a deep breath and in one fluid motion, peeled the sleeve from his arm.
The sight of his missing hand was a little strange, she supposed. For all they came in a myriad of shapes and sizes and colours, human bodies were, for the most part, symmetrical, and the eye couldn’t help being drawn to any variation in that established balance. But it was hardly disgusting. Just – different. Jaime had lost his hand at the wrist, and all that remained was a smooth stump, with only the faintest amount of scarring. Of course he even healed perfectly.
She wanted to ask how it had happened, and when – it must be fairly recent if no one else had seen it, and for him to be so self-conscious about it – but that could wait. His face was hunted, vulnerable; he looked as though he was anticipating a million questions which would force him to recount years of trauma, and Brienne wanted him to be comfortable.
And happy. And ideally, squashed up very close to her.
‘See?’ she said quietly, reaching out and tracing feather-light fingertips over his stump. ‘Just an arm.’
He was staring at her, eyes wide, nostrils flared, and lips pressed tight together.
‘Sorry,’ she said, withdrawing her hand. ‘I didn’t mean –’
Whatever the end of that sentence was going to be, it was lost to history, because Jaime snatched her into his arms and kissed her so fiercely she thought she might spontaneously combust.
His hand was all over her; her cheek, her neck, her shoulder-blades; down her arms and gripping her waist, as though he couldn’t get close enough. Brienne matched him with equal fervour, stroking his shoulders, his chest, the smooth skin of his back. She touched his jaw, stubble grazing the pads of her fingers, and combed her hands through his silky golden hair. His flat stomach, his trim waist, even his nipples and his arse – all were fair game for a good old grope. He dragged his lips from hers and pressed them down her throat, soft and wet, and she gasped quietly, though she could have shouted out loud in pure happiness.
His hand tugged at her shirt once again and she helped him yank it over her head, before panicking, going bright red, and clamping her arms down at her sides.
‘What?’ murmured Jaime, arms wrapping around the bare skin at her waist.
How were you supposed to tell a bloke you hadn’t shaved your armpits in about two years? Or your legs or muff either, for that matter? Brienne was pretty sure she’d even cultivated a bit of toe hair. And why not, when she’d been so certain she’d never find herself in this position? Good Lord, she was a moron; if she had only waited until after they’d gone on a date to try anything saucy with him, she could have scheduled some sort of intensive waxing appointment to make herself… well, if not attractive, at least presentable. She glanced down at her body and wished she hadn’t; she was wearing a grey sports bra which offered no illusions as to just how small her breasts were. She couldn’t even distract him from the pit hair with cleavage.
‘What’s the matter?’ said Jaime. ‘Brienne?’
‘I should shower,’ she said, chewing her lip.
‘Why?’ He kissed down her neck. ‘I think you smell good.’
‘No, I…’ Brienne sighed as his mouth trailed along her collarbone. ‘I mean I haven’t shaved.’
That was good. Non-specific. He’d hopefully assume she just had some light stubble on her legs, and she could run to the bathroom and razor everything off before he realised just how dire the situation was. If truth be told, she was starting to look like a blonde version of Mr Tumnus.
‘I don’t give a shit,’ said Jaime, startling her a little. ‘I haven’t shaved either. Quite frankly, Tarth, you could be part Wookiee and I’d still want to get you out of these clothes. Not to sound like a complete pervert, but I’ve been thinking about this for months.’
Brienne stared at him. He meant it. Again. What had she done to deserve this – to be looked at with such affection and desire by someone she wanted so desperately? She was lost for words, so she responded in the only way she could think of and whipped off her bra.
Jaime blinked. Quite a few times, actually. It was incredibly gratifying. Heart in her throat, Brienne memorised every dazed flicker of his golden eyelashes, wanting to gobble up the sight of him and hold it in her heart until the end of her days. She had never liked her chest in the past – she was barely an A cup, and combined with her considerable height and plain face, this had led many a cocky teenager to ask if she was a boy or a girl. But here and now, she wanted to apologise to her breasts personally for every hateful thought she’d ever had about them, because they were making Jaime look at her like that.
His hand reached up to cup and stroke, and she sucked in a breath. She had always been sensitive there, but had never thought anything of it apart from the fact that it was a pain in the arse when she went for a run. Asha and Margaery might have loud discussions about their romping adventures in the world of self-pleasure, but Brienne had never dared to experiment with such things. She hadn’t known such exquisite sensitivity could be a good thing; that she would ever find herself trembling and gasping in Jaime’s arms while he dragged the pad of his thumb across her nipple and kissed at her neck, pulling back every so often to watch her greedily.
‘I’d been wondering if you were freckled here too,’ he said, his fingertips tracing the little flecks of colour on her breast. ‘Some day I’m going to count them all.’
That would probably take the better part of an afternoon, but she wasn’t about to turn him down. The most memorable thing anyone had said about her freckles previously was to remark that she looked like she’d been shat on through a sieve. But Jaime liked them, she could see it in his eyes. Brienne pulled him close and kissed him again, and the feeling of their bare chests pressed together was perhaps the most hotly intimate sensation yet – at least, until she felt his erection hard against her crotch.
He was hard. She had made him hard. She wanted to sing, but instead let out an involuntary moan against his mouth. She might have been embarrassed, had he not let out a quiet groan himself and ground himself against her in response. His fingers danced to the front of her belt and began to fiddle with the buckle.
‘Is this OK?’ he murmured.
‘Mmm-hmm,’ was all the response Brienne could muster at that moment. The aching between her legs was so intense it was actually starting to hurt. Had her body ever been truly awake until now? Beating men to a pulp was all well and good if you liked an adrenaline surge, but it couldn’t compare to this. Never before had her skin shivered and prickled with want, or her insides seemed to almost squeeze, leaving her with a hollow sensation of throbbing emptiness. It was as if her neurons had sounded a klaxon which was screaming ‘MAKE WAY FOR DICK!’ and her other organs were frantically obeying.
Once her belt was undone, he made short work of opening her trousers and pushing them down her legs. She had to help him out with her boots, but soon she was standing there in nothing but her sensible blue knickers while Jaime knelt before her, gazing up at her as though she was a work of art.
‘Your legs,’ he said, swallowing. ‘I mean… I could write poems about your legs, Brienne. Bad ones, admittedly. Not really my forte, poetry. Besides, I don’t think any of the words that rhyme with long and sexy are very romantic.’
Nothing really rhymed with Mr Tumnus either, but Brienne wasn’t about to point it out, especially not with the way he wrapped his arms around her thighs and slowly stroked his way up them until they felt about as stable as the current government. Apparently she was sensitive there, too – or maybe she was just particularly attuned to Jaime, like a plant seeking the sunlight.
His hand tugged at her knickers, and she felt herself tremble – just a little, but enough for him to notice.
‘Is this too fast?’ he said, pulling back at once. ‘We can stop.’
Even if Brienne had wanted to stop, the sight of him then would have been enough to make her reconsider. Jaime knelt at her feet, shirtless, gazing up at her with pupils dilated wide, a flush on his fine cheekbones. Despite the sweet and respectful words coming out of his mouth, his position made it look like he was begging to touch her. How on earth was she meant to resist that? She felt almost like a goddess with a devoted worshipper before her.
Still, her thighs had definitely tensed up and she was chewing on her lip. He’d come all this way to her temple; it was probably time to tell him that she was the kind of goddess who had never been shagged. What were the virgin goddesses called again – Athena? Vesta?
Stab Vesta sounded about right.
‘I don’t want to stop,’ she whispered. ‘But I, um… I’ve never done this before. Any of it.’
‘That’s OK,’ said Jaime. ‘Me too. Well, sort of. I’ve never been with a woman who wasn’t –’
He stopped talking abruptly and looked away, and Brienne’s mind began to play a vicious game of fill-in-the-blank. A woman who wasn’t what? Pretty? Experienced? Well-endowed? Wearing fancy lingerie? Oh, it was no use blaming the lingerie; Sansa or Margaery could have made her blue Tesco knickers look fabulous.
‘Wasn’t what?’ she said in a small voice, her arms crossing protectively over her chest.
‘Well, who wasn’t what my therapist termed narcissistic and abusive,’ said Jaime. His face clouded into a frown as he looked back up at her. ‘Oh, hell, I’ve worried you now, haven’t I? I – I don’t mean to scare you, Brienne. I've only been with one other woman, and she - well, let's not talk about her. What would make you less nervous? A massage? A drink? This?’
Before she had a chance to respond, he snatched up the little pot of pens and pencils that sat on her desk and upturned it over his head.
Ridiculous as it was, it did the trick. Shaking with laughter, Brienne leaned down to kiss him, no longer trying to cover herself. ‘You are very silly,’ she whispered, ‘and I like you very much.’
By the time she pulled away, he was beaming. There would be plenty of time later to talk about the ugliness of their pasts, and the rain of thousands of little cruelties that had weathered and eroded the chiselled marble of his body and the craggy granite of hers, until their fissures and flaws fit together perfectly.
Kisses turned to touch once more. Jaime nuzzled her navel, palmed her breasts, stroked her thighs. He spent so long toying with the sides of her knickers and gently petting her through them that eventually she couldn’t take it and yanked them off herself, realising belatedly that that had probably been his intention all along. Jaime grabbed her leg and tossed it over his shoulder. For a moment it stuck straight out, almost as though she was knighting him, but then she curled it around him, instinctively drawing him closer as her insides pulsed with want. He leaned in and kissed her inner thighs.
‘You have to tell me what you like,’ he murmured. ‘If you want me to stop, or if you want it higher, or harder, or slower. Anything.’
Brienne nodded, too wound up to speak. Delicately, Jaime parted her with two fingers and pressed his lips to her.
If she had thought her nipples were sensitive, it was nothing compared to the sensations between her thighs. Jaime was exploring every last part of her in a way she’d never bothered to do herself, and she could barely keep up. His tongue would slide along her at one moment, hot and slow, and then it would trace intricate patterns, as though he were writing her a love letter in the world’s filthiest calligraphy. She felt his finger slip inside her and curve, gently pressing at her walls until he found a sweet spot and all the breath-holding and lip-biting in the world couldn’t stifle the moan she made.
She vaguely registered which song the Dire Straits were on now, and almost laughed; Jaime was eating her out while Tunnel of Love played in the background. There was a vagina joke in there somewhere, and Asha would certainly have made it under the circumstances, but Brienne was far too befuddled to think of it. Jaime’s mouth felt so headily good that she almost wondered if she was dreaming, but when she looked down she was dressed as neither Xena nor She-Ra, so she knew it had to be real.
The very idea that she might have the audacity to tell him to go higher or lower or anything was utterly laughable. He was playing her body like an instrument; playing a song she had never heard before but at which he was a maestro, and which she never, ever wanted to end. Another moan stuttered out as she watched him; he was sucking and licking at her with almost bestial enthusiasm; as though her body was the finest banquet he had ever encountered, which just happened to be served in a trough.
Another finger slipped into her, pressing just right. Another love note with his tongue. How was she meant to go out and eat Thai food with him when this was all she would be able to think about? His tongue swirled faster; she looked down and met his eye, and had to bite down on the back of her hand to keep quiet, which only spurred him on.
All of the nerves in her body were drawn taut as harp strings, and his ardour drew them tighter and tighter until she spasmed so hard she banged her head on the wall. Jaime pulled back, presumably to ask if she was all right, but she reached blindly down and mashed his face against her once more, and she heard him groaning as her hand fisted in his hair. He sucked at her harder, and the vibrations of each silent note reverberated through her as something seemed to burst deep inside and the song came to a hot, pulsing finale between her thighs. Jaime stayed with her as she fell to pieces, the pressure of his mouth mirroring the strangled moans that escaped her gritted teeth, kissing her ever more softly as her body slowly shuddered to stillness.
‘Oh my God,’ Brienne mumbled, untangling her fingers from his hair and sagging down the wall until they were slumped together on the floor. ‘Jaime. Oh my God. Are you real?’
‘I’ve always liked to think so,’ said Jaime, kissing his way up her shoulder and neck. His face felt sticky, and Brienne flushed, but he didn’t seem to care. Her body was electrified, doubly sensitive, and she quivered as his fingers stole up to stroke her breast. Her thigh was draped over his lap, and his erection dug into it insistently.
‘Right,’ she said abruptly, getting up and pulling him to his feet. ‘I’m going to take your trousers off.’
Brienne had seen a few dicks in her time. Not in a sexual context - it was just a side effect of growing up as ‘one of the lads’ on the Isle of Wight, where there was absolutely sod all for bored teenagers to do. The aforementioned dicks had been soft, small, whipped out on a dare or during an unfortunate game of Cock Or Ball, and more often than not, had been whirled in a circle at great rapidity while the bloke in question shouted ‘HELICOPTER INCOMING!’
None of them had ever inspired the slightest amount of interest in Brienne's long-dormant loins. It had never occurred to her that a dick could be handsome. But she supposed if anyone would have one that was, it would be Jaime.
They tumbled into her too-narrow bed, squashed up together under the duvet, and she reached down and gently stroked him, tried to learn his body the way he seemed to know hers while he pressed groaning kisses beneath her ear. His cock felt smooth and warm, wet at the tip, and Brienne lightly tugged and squeezed, watching eagerly for every sharp intake of breath, every time his body tensed, every time he muttered ‘Please,’ under his breath. Her wrist began to twinge a little so she tangled her legs around him instead, pressing herself wetly against him, squirming until he grunted. She couldn’t get close enough.
‘Do you want to?’ she asked, her voice low.
‘God – yes. Yes, I want to. But do you have –?’
Brienne bit her lip, thought hard. Sansa and Jeyne would have some, but there was no way in hell she was going to wake them up at this ungodly hour to ask if she could borrow one. There were none in the bathroom – she should know, she was the only one who ever cleaned it – and there was no reason on God’s green earth why she would have one in her room, unless –
Leaping out of bed and thoroughly startling Jaime in the process, Brienne yanked open her desk drawer and began to rifle through it until finally she hit the jackpot. She turned around triumphantly clutching a small paper bag which said ‘HAVE YOU BEEN TESTED FOR CHLAMYDIA????’ in vibrant purple writing.
‘Erm,’ Jaime looked taken aback. ‘I’m clean, I promise.’
Snorting with laughter, Brienne shook her head, reached into the bag, and produced a bright purple condom.
‘They gave them out at the fresher’s fair,’ she told him, chucking the bag aside as she wriggled back into bed. ‘It’s been sat in my drawer for a year and a half.’
‘Waiting for Mr Right?’ asked Jaime, grinning, and Brienne reached down to squeeze his cock again until the smug look was wiped off his face entirely.
All of her nerves seemed to have evaporated. Admittedly she’d never had an orgasm before tonight, so perhaps Jaime had managed to adeptly release the accumulated weight of twenty-four years of stress with his tongue. Maybe now she would be a whole new Brienne, laid-back and chill, and she wouldn’t get annoyed when the girls didn’t separate their recycling properly.
OK, that wasn't likely. She was getting irritated just thinking about it.
Anyway. It was strange how even though losing your virginity was supposed to be a Big Deal, even though she had almost written off the possibility of it ever happening and therefore ought to be bloody alarmed about it, Brienne felt no fear. It was Jaime. He liked her. She trusted him.
She unwrapped the condom but let Jaime deal with putting it on, since he had more experience in this area and they could hardly afford for it to break. He rolled on top of her and her belly gave one final hollow squeeze – his dick had most definitely been made way for. She didn't think she could wait a moment longer. Jaime gazed down at her, kissing her over and over as he positioned himself at her entrance and slowly glided in.
Glided was the perfect word for it, Brienne thought as her breath hitched; he entered her the way a swan moves across a still lake. He felt so smooth, so good inside her, as though his cock had been crafted by the gods themselves, or possibly laser-cut by NASA to achieve optimal shagging aerodynamics. She had been told sex would hurt the first time, but she wanted him so badly that there wasn’t even a twinge of pain; there was nothing except the slide of his body on hers and a glowing surge of joy at having him so close. She could have counted his eyelashes; could have memorised every laughter line framing his eyes.
‘Brienne,’ Jaime sighed as he bottomed out within her. She wrapped all her limbs around him, pulling him as close as she could, and buried her face in his neck, inhaling deeply. The clean smell of his sweat cut through his cologne, and it was so good he could have bottled and sold it as an aphrodisiac.
‘Jaime,’ she whispered, and rocked her hips against him.
‘Point taken,’ he mumbled, and began to move with her.
This was what she had been wanting; what she had been waiting for. This was why she’d barely looked twice at any other boys, and why none of them had ever looked twice at her except as a joke. She was meant to be with Jaime. The empty ache inside her had been filled; with every slow thrust, his cock slid against that sweet spot his fingers had found, and drew tiny shivering moans forth from her lips, which she pressed against his throat to muffle the sound.
Her walls throbbed around him and he exhaled loud in her ear. For once, there wasn’t a single thought in her head. All she could think of was Jaime, hot and gorgeous on top of her, lips on her neck, chest crushed against hers, cock flush and slick inside her. She couldn't have said how long they writhed together. Her focus was on the drag of his nipples against her own, the press of his mouth to her throat, the waves of sensation rippling through her more and more intensely each time he filled her. Before long, his movements lost their smooth rhythm, becoming increasingly frantic; Brienne crushed her thighs around him and he groaned desperately. Thrilling all over, she reached up and tugged lightly on his hair until he was looking her in the eye, his handsome face helpless with desire.
‘Brienne,’ he gasped. His naked desperation was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. She was utterly transfixed as she watched him gasp for breath, wide eyes trained on hers, arms shaking violently. He pulsated hotly within her as he came with a suppressed groan, hips grinding jerkily into her own, and she shivered and sighed around him.
Afterwards, when the last little sparks of pleasure had been wrung out between them and the condom had been neatly disposed of, he held her in his arms and kissed her.
‘Oh, Brienne,’ he said, his nose nuzzling her cheek. ‘That was perfect. You’re perfect.'
She sighed in response, cuddling up close, tangling their legs together. She was as warm and safe as... oh, sod it, there was no analogy to be made. There couldn't be anyone in the world who felt warmer and safer than she did in this moment.
'Just think,' Jaime went on. 'If the sex is this good, imagine how spectacular our fight is going to be.’
‘Idiot,’ Brienne mumbled drowsily.
When she drifted off to sleep, she was smiling.
Asha was having a very productive morning.
Despite the ungodly hour at which she had crashed out on the sofa, she had been up with the dawn chorus, and had immediately got on the blower with assorted representatives of Britain’s slimiest and most reactionary tabloid newspapers. After auctioning off the footage of last night’s drunken Mayoral brawl to the highest bidder (which had been, inevitably, the Daily Mail), she had made herself a cup of tea and some Marmite on toast, sent Qarl a quick tit pic to subtly communicate that she wanted a) sex and b) weed, and settled down to watch some shite daytime telly and plan how she would spend her earnings.
She could have got even more for the video if she hadn’t edited out the revelation of DI Dreamboat’s prosthetic hand. Curse her bloody conscience. As a copper and an Englishman he hardly deserved her sympathy, but Asha wasn’t about to do anything to jeopardise Brienne finally shagging the man of her dreams, even if it did cost her a few quid.
Before long she was joined by Meera, who had popped down for a spot of early morning yoga in the back garden. Feeling distinctly smug about what a good person she was, Asha decided that if she was ever going to give yoga a punt, now was the time. She wriggled out of her leather trousers and sauntered outside in her T-shirt and knickers to join in.
This particular student garden wasn’t as bad as most, largely because Meera liked planting flowers and veg, Sansa liked hanging birdfeeders, and Brienne occasionally mowed the lawn. It was actually dead peaceful out there, barefoot in the wet grass on a warm spring morning, breathing deep and gently stretching, contemplating life and the earth and whether any of these yoga positions would come in handy later when she was getting pumped by a certain beardless weed dealer. Asha felt so at one with nature that she was tempted to take the rest of her clothes off too. Meera probably wouldn’t have cared, but two separate neighbours had already shouted ‘OI-OI!’ at the sight of Asha downward-dogging in her undercrackers, and she didn’t want to encourage them.
The garden had an impressive array of shite plastic chairs strewn about it, remnants from barbecues past, and it was such a nice day that it was here Asha and Meera chose to repose when they had finishing yoga-ing it up, with steaming mugs of tea in hand. It wasn’t long before a bleary-eyed Arya joined them, her hair sticking up at odd angles.
‘Good night?’ Asha enquired.
‘Amazing. My ears are still ringing. I crowdsurfed and one of the blokes from the Flaming Quentyns called me a tiny mad bitch, so I flicked him the V’s.’
‘How’s Gendry?’ asked Meera.
‘Stupid,’ said Arya, her ears going red.
‘Stupid as in, he actually did something bad?’
‘No,’ said Arya. Her cheeks went red too.
‘So just stupid as in… that’s how he is?’ Meera looked doubtfully at Asha.
‘Doesn’t matter. Whatever.’
‘You’re being very coy,’ remarked Asha. ‘Did he finger you behind the bins?’
‘Shut up!’ snapped Arya, picking up a stick from the grass and chucking it at Asha’s head. ‘It was just a gig, nothing happened, and I’d rather jump into a vat of chip oil than let Gendry Waters do anything like that, because he is a massive, honking bumface.’
Ah, to be young and in love. Grinning, Asha let it slide.
‘Looks like I’m the one with all the spicy gossip, then,’ she said. ‘Gather round, ladies. This presentation has an audio-visual element.’
Asha showed them the unedited video from last night, watching their reactions with amusement as old Bobby B beat up his brother and then got pinned to the ground, hurling abuse at the world at large. By the end, Meera was appalled, her eyes widening. Arya defaulted to rage.
‘That fat old dickhead!’ she stormed. ‘What the hell is his problem? You bloody should have stolen his chain of office. Could've flogged it on eBay.’
‘Yeah, well, it was tricky to pull that off without him noticing,’ said Asha. ‘It was the fecking bouncers who got me. If I’d waited until we were out of the pub, I would’ve got clean away, but I was fed up of him grabbing my tits.’
‘He’ll get what’s coming to him,’ said Asha, stretching in the sun like a cat. ‘I may or may not have sold the video to the press for an unspecified sum. If he hasn’t been booted out of office by the end of the week, then I’m Carol Vorderman.’
‘Good,’ said Meera. ‘I didn’t vote for him. I can’t believe he said that to Jaime, I had no idea about his hand. Was he OK?’
‘I think so,’ said Asha. ‘He’s a copper; I’m sure he’s heard worse. He blatantly hadn’t told Brie about it, though, and she’d clearly never noticed. Probably too busy gazing into his eyes. Or looking at his arse.’
Meera smiled. ‘What happened after you stopped filming?’
‘Mayor Dickhead calmed down a bit and Detective Dreamy gave us a lift back,’ said Asha. ‘Sansa and Sandor hashed out some very serious Nando’s-related drama, but they made it through. You probably heard their romantic reunion last night – I certainly did when I nipped upstairs for a piss. I think she might have been taking it up the chutney pipe. No judgement, but Jesus Christ. She’s told me how big his knob is. It can’t have been comfortable for her.’
‘Erm, shut up,’ said Arya, looking like she was about to sick up on the lawn like a cat.
‘You ask what happened, I’m going to tell you,’ said Asha, waving a hand dismissively. ‘Oh, and I left Brienne and Jaime alone outside to see if he’d confess his undying love for her. You know, the usual stuff. I don’t suppose you’ve got any biscuits knocking about? This cup of tea is crying out for a custard cream.’
‘You left them outside?’ said Meera, frowning. ‘Did you hear Brienne come in?’
‘I definitely did, so stop worrying that she’s been abducted. Like he could take her anyway, she’s a bloody machine.’ Suddenly Asha froze, her eyes narrowing. ‘But I’ll tell you what I didn’t hear. Now I come to think of it, I never actually heard him drive away.’
For a moment, suspended in time, the three of them all sat perfectly still, staring at one another in mounting suspicion. Then they simultaneously scrambled to their feet, sprinted inside to the living room, and dived behind the net curtains to squint out of the window.
There, parked right in front of the house next to Sandor’s bike, was Jaime Lannister’s slate grey Audi.
‘Holy fecking shite,’ whispered Asha, her breath fogging the glass. ‘The sly bastard never went home.’
‘That doesn’t mean they shagged,’ said Arya. Her face was all pinched, like a cat’s bumhole. ‘It’s Brienne. She’s not like you, or Sansa. She wouldn’t do that. Maybe he didn’t even come in. No one’s seen him.’
‘What, you think he just left his car there and wandered around outside all night singing On The Street Where You Live?’ Asha snorted. ‘Oh, he came in all right.’
‘That doesn’t necessarily mean they slept together, though,’ said Meera.
‘True,’ Asha conceded. ‘He’s a bit poncey, isn’t he? There’s a decent chance they just laid in each other’s arms and recited poetry all night.’
‘I didn’t hear them,’ said Arya sullenly.
‘Course you didn’t, you said your ears are still ringing. Meera, your room’s right next to Brie’s – any sexy sounds?’
‘How should I know? Whenever Sandor’s round I put my headphones in. All I heard last night was Gregorian chanting.’
‘Rock and roll,’ said Asha. The three of them wandered back outside, Asha making sure to snaffle a packet of biscuits from the kitchen along the way. As they settled back into their chairs, Arya’s phone lit up. She glanced down at it, glared furiously, and stuffed it into her pocket.
‘Fuck sake,’ said Asha. ‘Come on, out with it. What did he do?’
‘You bloody well know who. Gendry. I know he just messaged you. Usually when he does that, you get a little grin on your face like a baby with a mouthful of jam. Have you had a fight?’
‘No,’ said Arya. ‘He’s just a massive bellend, that’s all.’
‘But I thought you were friends,’ said Meera gently. ‘What happened? Is he a secret racist?’
‘No, said Arya, folding her arms across her chest and glowering at Meera’s rhubarb patch. ‘He’s an idiot. He walked me home, and he kept asking if I was cold and if I wanted his stupid jacket. And then when we got here, he – he told me I was pretty.’
‘OK,' said Meera, her brow furrowed. 'And then what?’
‘Well, I shoved him in the chest, called him a twat, and ran inside,’ said Arya, as though this ought to have been obvious.
Meera and Asha glanced at one another. Where to begin? Mercifully, they were spared from having to come up with a reasonable response to Arya’s apparent mania by the onset of some Disney Princess-esque singing drifting out from the kitchen.
‘Good morning,’ Sansa called serenely, shooing Sandor outside while she made breakfast. He collapsed into one of the chairs, which creaked alarmingly under his bulk.
‘Had a pleasant evening, Romeo?’ enquired Asha.
‘None of your business,’ grumbled Sandor. ‘For Christ’s sake, put some trousers on.’
‘Why? Does the sight of my lady-stubble offend you?’ Asha selected a biscuit and dunked it in her tea for a dangerously long moment before stuffing it in her mouth. ‘You want to get with the times, mate. It’s 2019. You can’t have me sectioned for flashing a bit of ankle any more.’
‘More’s the pity,’ Sandor said, yawning widely. He glanced at Arya. ‘What’s up with you, Grotbags?’
‘She’s having man trouble,’ said Asha.
‘Yeah, the trouble being the giant ugly dickhead of a man who’s making himself at home in my back garden,’ snapped Arya.
‘Not as home as he is in your sister’s back garden,’ said Asha. This comment was received with general disgust, as was so often the way with her favoured brand of humour. It didn’t bother her. She was an artist; they’d appreciate her when she was dead.
Presently Sansa emerged from the kitchen with Sandor’s usual vat of black coffee and gave him an embarrassingly glowing look as she handed it to him, before beaming around at the rest of them.
‘I hope you’re enjoying spending time with my boyfriend,’ she said pointedly.
Arya was the first to catch on. ‘Oh, for fuck’s sake,’ she said. ‘Did you absolutely have to?’
‘Your heartfelt congratulations mean the world to us,’ said Sandor sarcastically.
‘What?' Arya pulled a face. 'I’m not about to start belting out Consider Yourself At Home just because you two morons have made it Facebook official.’
‘My boyfriend doesn’t have Facebook,’ said Sansa. Her eyes lit up and she turned to him. ‘Oh, but you could –’
‘Nope,’ said Sandor implacably.
‘You’re so mean,’ said Sansa, stroking his hair.
Sandor was obviously doing his damnedest to maintain his usual facade of cantankerous indifference, but it was being rather hamstrung by the fact that he couldn't stop grinning like an idiot. Intent on breaking up the moment, Arya chucked a biscuit at his head. He caught it one-handed and gave it to Sansa, who sighed as blissfully as if it was a diamond ring, squeezed his shoulder, and floated back to the kitchen.
‘You’d better not fuck her over,’ said Arya fiercely. ‘You’re a grumpy git and you look like a Bond henchman. You couldn’t do any better if you won the sodding lottery.’
‘I don’t know,’ muttered Sandor, as the air was suddenly rent with the piercing sound of Sansa squealing with excitement. ‘I could certainly find someone quieter.’
Voices were emerging from the kitchen, and the cause of Sansa’s ear-splitting shrieks slowly became apparent.
‘No, honestly,’ said a familiar voice in panicky tones, ‘he’s got work, he needs to head off – he can get some food on the way, he’s not even hungry –’
‘No, I absolutely insist!’ came Sansa’s delighted voice. ‘We can’t send him away without breakfast! Go and sit outside with Sandor, who incidentally is my boyfriend, and I’ll make you both some toast. It’s so lovely to have you round. I told you she’s the best!’
‘I – erm. Yes. Thanks.’
Brienne and Jaime shuffled awkwardly into the garden. Asha sat up straight.
Jaime was still in his suit, though he’d ditched the jacket, and was looking charmingly rumpled and rather pink in the face. Brienne's face had bypassed pink and gone straight to maroon, and she was refusing to look anyone in the eye. They were standing closer together than Asha had ever known them to, and their faces said they would rather have walked into the very mouth of Hell than come into the garden at this moment.
‘Why, DI Lannister,’ said Asha, putting a hand to her chest. ‘How terribly selfish of me. If I’d known you were staying the night, I never would have taken up the sofa for myself. Wherever did you sleep?’
‘Shut up, Asha,’ said Meera, which was fair enough really, since Brienne’s head looked like it was about to explode. ‘Morning, guys. Take a seat. I’m guessing you’ve heard Sansa and Sandor’s news?’
‘We’ve heard all manner of things from Sansa and Sandor,’ said Jaime. He whispered something in Brienne’s ear and she covered her face, her shoulders shaking.
‘Brienne,’ said Arya, appalled at this display of casual intimacy. ‘Not you too?’
'What?' said Brienne, looking as panicked as if she'd been caught snorting coke in class. Thankfully, at this point Sansa derailed the conversation once again by popping her head out to ask Jaime what he’d like to drink.
‘A latte would be great, thanks,’ he said. It occurred to Asha that all of her previous encounters with Detective Dreamboat had taken place after she’d had a snifter or two of the old home brew. This would go some way towards explaining why she’d never realised until now just how fecking posh he was.
‘Well, LA-DEE-DAH, Your Majesty,’ she said loudly. ‘Would you like that with a side of lobster thermidor?’
‘Sorry?’ said Jaime, looking hunted.
‘This isn’t a bloody Costa,’ said Arya. ‘We can’t just make you a latte.’
‘You don’t have a coffee machine?’ said Jaime uncertainly. Asha squinted at him. For a copper, he was bloody sheltered.
‘Of course not!’ said Meera. ‘Those pods are terrible for the environment. Besides, you should think about making the switch to green tea. You look like you could use the antioxidants.’
Jaime glanced at Brienne, obviously hoping for a bit of support. He was barking up the wrong tree, trying to get the Mussolini of the recycling bin to defend his disposable coffee pod habit.
‘Do you really have one of those machines?’ she asked, disappointment all over her face.
‘I mean… well, I…’ Jaime was cornered and he knew it. He looked desperately at Sandor and his giant mug. ‘Come on, you’re a coffee drinker – help me out here.’
Sandor stretched his humongous arms above his head, looking insanely smug. Probably because he wasn’t the one getting it in the neck for once. ‘Sorry, mate. I use instant.’ He glanced at Sansa and smirked. ‘Fair trade.’
Practically swooning at this environmentally sound brand of macho posturing, Sansa blew her beloved boyfriend a kiss. ‘I’ll do you a milky coffee,’ she told Jaime, and vanished into the kitchen.
‘How long has this been going on?’ Arya demanded, glowering at Brienne and Jaime as though they had spent the night hatching a dastardly plan to murder her.
'Well, I started drinking coffee at sixteen, and I suppose I bought the machine a few years ago…'
'Not the coffee!' snapped Arya. 'You two! Together! Smooching!'
‘We're not smooching!’ protested Brienne, at the exact same time that Jaime beamed and said ‘Our first date is tomorrow.’ Both stopping up short, they looked at each other and giggled self-consciously.
Brienne had never giggled in her life. This could only mean one thing: they had definitely shagged last night.
‘But look at him,’ Arya was saying plaintively. ‘He’s all girly. I bet he votes Lib Dem.’
‘You’ve got a point there,’ said Asha. ‘I bet he supports Man United.’
‘Bet he shops at Waitrose.’
‘Bet he spent his gap year in Australia.’
‘Would you both put a sock in it?’ said Brienne. Her cheeks were crimson, and she looked apologetically at Jaime. ‘I’m so sorry about them. I did warn you.’
‘He’s already met us,’ said Asha. ‘He knew what he was getting into. Namely, you. Wahey!’
‘Er.’ Jaime’s mouth opened and closed a few times, making him look like a particularly handsome fish. Brienne was staring up at the sky, her face pinched, as if wondering whether or not she ought to punch her charming Irish friend in the face.
‘Oh, for fuck’s sake. He did, didn’t he? You two had sex.’ Arya stomped off into the kitchen, bidding them farewell with a shout of ‘Everyone in this house is disgusting.’
‘What’s up with her?’ asked Brienne. She looked genuinely hurt. ‘I didn't mean to upset her. Should I go and have a word?’
‘Leave her,’ said Asha. ‘She’s just very opposed to people engaging in normal human contact at the moment. I hope she doesn’t crack out one of those purity rings. I’d have to stop associating with her.’
‘I’ll get the crystals,’ said Meera, getting to her feet and heading inside. ‘Her root chakra just needs unblocking, that’s all.’
‘Of course it does,’ said Sandor, throwing up his hands. ‘That girl is studying Environmental fucking Science, but she somehow believes she can solve everyone’s problems by poking them with a shiny rock.’
Sansa returned, bearing toast and tea and one non-fancy, environmentally conscious milky coffee. Despite the plethora of available chairs, she curled up on Sandor’s lap and began twirling his chest hair between her fingers where it poked out of his T-shirt. Yet another reason to disavow chest hair completely, Asha decided. Qarl just kept getting more and more attractive.
‘Oh, Brienne!’ said Sansa brightly. ‘Now that you’re with Jaime, and Sandor is my boyfriend, we can all hang out together.'
'We can?' said Brienne. Her face suggested that she was mentally comparing the prospect to an unpleasant dental procedure. 'Are we not doing that right now?'
'I mean, we can go on double dates!’
‘That would be nice,’ said Jaime eagerly. ‘Perhaps in a couple of weeks’ time, we could all go for brunch?’
‘I love brunch!’ said Sansa, clutching a delighted hand to her heart.
Asha sniggered. Brienne and Sandor were eyeing each other like feral dogs who’d been trapped together in a strange room full of treats and toys and fluffy cushions, and were as of yet undecided as to whether they should rip each other’s throats out, break down the door and run for the hills, or curl up and get comfortable. She had a pretty good idea which option they’d go for. Sandor had been kidding himself for months about not doing the whole boyfriend thing, but he’d been pussywhipped since Bonfire Night and everyone knew it.
And Brienne… well. It was obvious she’d been wanting this, but she’d been waiting for someone who would appreciate her. Inspector Dreamy looked like he’d appreciated her twice last night already and was keen to schedule in a third appreciating session at her earliest convenience. He was gazing at her as though she'd hung the moon. In return, whenever Brienne looked his way, it was as though she hardly dared let herself believe he was there. Asha wasn't about to admit it, but the sight of them warmed her thorny little heart. She appreciated Brienne too. If there was anyone on earth who deserved their very own Prince Charming, it was her.
Just then, Asha’s phone lit up. She unlocked the screen in vague hopes that Qarl had woken up and sent her a bit of provocative photography, but she was instead met with an alert from the Mail informing her that her video had been uploaded.
She tapped on the link, and there it was. They'd written some shitty article to go with it, of course, making sure to mention the Mayor's passel of illicit love children, and, predictably, implying that she herself was a thieving, tax-evading, caravan-dwelling gypsy. Dickheads. She'd known it was coming; with the Mail you got what you paid for, and what you paid for was an unending barrage of racism. Thankfully, this time they'd been the ones who'd paid her. She did quite like the headline, though. BIFF! BOBBY B BRAINS BORING BROTHER - BLONDE BOUNCER BREAKS IT UP.
‘Oi, you lot,’ she said, tapping at her phone with an authoritative finger. ‘Who wants to watch St George slay the dragon?’
'The dragon is a metaphor,' said Brienne.
'Yes,' said Asha, 'and in this particular video, St George is a metaphor for you, and his sword is a metaphor for your body, and the dragon is a metaphor for a big, fat…'
She waggled her eyebrows at Jaime, and he went white, obviously wondering just what the hell she'd managed to film. Brienne had covered her face with her hands.
‘… Mayor,' Asha finished, smirking. 'You really need to think of a more modest name for your dick, DI Lannister. I filmed you both dealing with the Mayor. Incidentally, I sold the footage to the press, and you’re about to watch it on the Daily Mail website. Happy St George’s Day, fuckers! Bobby B is going down.’
Remind me to never set myself a fic deadline ever again, because what the fuck.
Anyway, thank you for all your lovely comments. I hope you've enjoyed the story! The final part of this series will be uploaded in a few months :)