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Brienne’s first meeting with Jaime Lannister was going just about as poorly as Catelyn Stark had warned her it probably would. His former editor, Barristan Selmy, had retired a few weeks earlier, and despite Lannister’s remarkable success as an author, none of the other editors on staff were willing to work with him. Brienne had already been warned that he was too difficult, too rude, too demanding, disrespectful, a spoiled rich boy. Not to mention, they would whisper,  the time he nearly beat a guy to death. Never mind that it had happened years ago, while Brienne was still in elementary school (and Jaime Lannister had been fairly young himself), it was still one of the first things the gossips brought up. It had been a pretty big story at the time; King’s Landing’s Cotillion Ball marred by senseless violence as one blue-blooded escort beat another for reasons unknown. Westeros may have ceased to be a monarchy over a hundred years earlier, but names like Lannister and Targaryen still held prestige in tabloids and business circles. Charges had been filed, but Jaime Lannister took a plea bargain in return for community service— no jail time. The official stance was that he was barely a legal adult, and so they went easy on him, but rumor had it that Tywin Lannister had made a sizable donation to the King’s Landing Police Department to make sure his son didn’t get jail time and the story would blow over sooner rather than later. It was probably one of the worst kept secrets in Westeros. 

 

When Brienne had met with Barristan Selmy the week prior, he had told her that she would need to be firm if she was going to work with Lannister, who liked to make trouble for no reason other than it amused him. There is a price to pay to work with brilliance, Miss Tarth. He will test you, and mock you, and try his best to drive you away. You have to decide if it is a price you are willing to pay.

 

 

And Jamie Lannister, with his golden hair and emerald eyes and a carefully sharpened silver tongue, was definitely living up to his reputation for being difficult today. 

 “Is Catelyn serious? You’re supposed to be my new designated editor? You don’t look old enough to drink legally. Have you even got a degree?” His voice was smooth, each word articulated in a crisp way that spoke of private schooling and aristocratic bloodlines.

Brienne fought the urge to roll her eyes and straightened her shoulders instead. “I assure you, I am old enough to drink. I graduated summa cum laude from King’s Landing University and I have a Master’s Degree in Literature from the Citadel.” 

The Citadel was easily one of the most prestigious schools in the country, and was especially renowned for its humanities programs. She wished she had her diploma in front of her, so she could brandish it like a sword in his face.

It at least got him to sit down across the table from her instead of continuing to gawk and leer at her from the doorway of the conference room Catelyn had reserved for them. She resisted the urge to squirm under his careful consideration, his eyes taking inventory of her freckles, her once-broken nose, her broad shoulders, large hands resting on the table. “By the gods, you’re a great beast of a woman. How tall are you exactly?”

She resisted the urge to sigh. This always happened. “I’m 6’3.”

“Gods, you’re even taller than me. Though just barely.” He leaned back in his seat and crossed his arms. “No matter how physically imposing you may be, wench, that doesn’t mean you’re qualified to be the dedicated editor for the most lucrative client Winterfell Publishing has.”

 Brienne grit her teeth. Pompous, arrogant asshole. “Well, unfortunately for you, none of the more experienced editors on staff were willing to take you on. Something about your rather difficult personality. You’re really quite notorious. Catelyn trusts me to handle you.”

His smirk turned into a suggestive leer. “Yes, I’m sure you’d dearly love to handle me. Sorry, wench, you’re just not my type.”

Brienne felt her hands curl into fists at the innuendo and easy superiority in his tone, trying to ground herself in the sharp pain of nails digging into her palms. Nope, not holding my tongue this time.

“Don’t flatter yourself, Lannister. You’re not pretty enough to tempt me, and far too old besides. And my name is Brienne.” It was half a lie, he was one of the prettiest men she’d ever seen. But she hoped that if nothing else, the age comment would ding his ego. 

 

She pulled a giant folder out of her bag and set it on the table in front of him with a loud thump before rising to her her full height, taking advantage of her imposing frame. She was enjoying looking down her nose at him.

“Since I was warned that you’d be difficult, I did my homework.” She gestured at the folder as she leaned her hip against the table, aiming for nonchalance, hoping she was pulling it off for once. “This is my work. I’d suggest you take a look at it before deeming me incompetent.”

He flipped open the folder, narrowing his eyes at the top page. “This isn’t your work, this is an essay of mine that was published in The Westerosi two months ago.”

“Yes. And that copy has my edits in the margins.”

“But it’s already been published.” He sounded thoroughly annoyed.

She smirked. “You and I both know that there’s no such thing as a true final draft where writing is concerned. If after looking through that stack you’ve changed your mind, call me in the morning and we’ll attempt a re-do. If not, call Catelyn. I’m sure she’ll be happy to hear that you’ve driven away every editor she has on staff.”

 

And with that Brienne stomped out of the conference room, hoping that she had not just made the biggest mistake of her fledgling career by betting on Jaime Lannister.

 

 

 

She was dead asleep when her cell phone rang, dreaming of debutantes in blood-stained white dresses laughing and drinking around a boxing ring where two boys in tuxes were throwing right hooks. She answered her phone without even opening her eyes.

 

“Hello?” Her voice was a gritty rasp. She winced.

 “Wench. We need to talk. I’ve been going through your monstrous stack of papers— you should really try to be more environmentally conscious— and while some of your points have merit, I want an explanation for—“

“Mr. Lannister? It is—“ she looked at the display on her phone and groaned, “it is 3 o clock in the morning.”

 “Yes, well. I was having trouble sleeping so I started to look through your homework, and—“

“Mr. Lannister, just because you are having trouble sleeping doesn’t give you the right to wake me up at this ungodly hour. I am going to hang up. I am going to turn off my phone. And I am going to go back to sleep. I will call you in the morning and answer whatever questions you have then. After I have had a cup of coffee, and not before.”

 

It was the first time anyone had hung up on Jaime Lannister without letting him have the last word. He wasn’t sure whether to be annoyed or impressed.

 

 

When Brienne finally turned her phone back on the next morning— after her shower and her first cup of coffee— there was a text waiting for her.

Wench. Call me as soon as you wake up. I’m taking you out for coffee.

She decided this was a good sign, even if Lannister was insisting on calling her wench. At least he wanted to talk to her, and buying her coffee might be his way of apologizing for waking her up in the middle of the night. She hoped.

 

 

Brienne met Jaime at a coffee shop in between her apartment and Winterfell’s offices. It was her regular coffee shop; she wondered if he already knew that somehow, then wondered if that made her paranoid. She was early, so she got in line to order her coffee, smiling politely at the barista who already knew her order (Hazelnut cappuccino, as usual, Miss?), and took her drink over to one of the tables by the windows. She wrapped her long fingers around the mug, savoring the warmth on an unseasonably cool and damp summer day, and tried to relax. She saw Jaime come in, his hair a wild halo of gold, and noticed with some amusement that he was carrying her folder around like it was a life preserver. He stalked over to her and plopped the folder down on the table without a word before getting in line to order his coffee. She tried to guess what he would order. Something strong and bitter, and very caffeinated. Not espresso, that’s too small and wouldn’t last long enough. A red eye. Or a black eye on bad days. She smiled into her mug as the barista called out a red eye for Jaime. 

He slid into the seat across from her. “Alright, wench. You’re smart enough. I don’t know that I would normally choose to read someone’s entire Master’s thesis at four in the morning, but I have to admit, it was good.”

“Thank you. And I gave you that stuff at three in the afternoon yesterday, so it isn’t my fault you chose to read it instead of sleep.”

 He gave good natured growl. “Don’t push it, wench. I’m trying to be nice.”

 She simply nodded at him. “Alright, so what had you so incensed that you needed to call me in the middle of night? I doubt my thesis was that exciting.”

 He opened the folder and shook a packet in front of her nose. “This, wench.”

 “My name is Brienne, you know. Brienne Tarth. And I can’t tell what that is with you waving it about like a battle standard.”

 He set it down in front of her and pointed to the paragraph she had blacked out. “You cut out an entire paragraph. The essay was only 1,500 words, and you cut an entire paragraph with no notes.”

 She simply leaned back in her seat and looked him in the eye. “You didn’t say anything.”

 She was fairly certain she could see one of the veins in his temple pulsing, and he was waving his hands around as he spoke. “There are words. On the page. Very carefully crafted, witty words.”

 “Yes. It’s a lovely paragraph designed to make you sound smarter than your reader, so they’ll be dazzled by your wit. But it doesn’t say anything. It’s padding so you can reach your word count without having to go the effort of making an actual point that someone might dare to disagree with.” She was surprised he didn’t even have the grace to look offended. “My gods. You actually know that I’m right. You know it’s a bunch of air and you’re just angry at me for calling you on it.”

 “I had a word count and a deadline to meet. Most people don’t care what I write anymore as long as it’s my by-line under the title.”

 “But you should care. This is what you do. My father always used to say, ‘Words are wind’. And most people take that at face value— that words don’t matter, that they can be ignored. But we live on words, Mr. Lannister. Words are only wind when there’s no substance behind them, when there’s no truth.”

 “And what if your father is right? What if words really are just wind?”

 She took a sip of her cappuccino to buy time for a response. “What if someone knew a secret about you, a dark and terrible secret, that if it got out, you would lose everything? And maybe they don’t even have proof, but you’re famous enough to know that every gossip rag in Westeros would find a way to put it in print. And this secret, maybe it would just be good press for your next book, but maybe it would be enough to destroy everything you have. Words alone could have the power to bring you down, Lannister or no. Words are weapons in the right hands.” 

 He was gripping his cup so tightly that his knuckles had turned white. “What did you just say?” That was a leonine growl if Brienne had ever heard one, predator turning on prey.

 She leaned back, a careful retreat from his animosity, and put her hands up in surrender. “Okay, we’ll stay away from hypotheticals that make you uncomfortable.” She thought for a moment, wondering how much of herself she could afford to reveal. “Words were enough to get me to beat a guy up in the school yard. He gave me this.” She pointed to her crooked nose. “But he got just as good, and lost a few teeth in the mix. We were both suspended from school for a week.”

 He seemed to relax at the change in topic, but she noticed the strength in his shoulders— tensed muscles like he was ready to pounce. “Let me guess, your classmates weren’t terribly polite to Big Brienne? Make fun of your height? Lack of womanly assets?”

 Brienne looked out the window and away from his sneer. “Not that time. He said it was a shame that I was the only Tarth kid left. That my father must have been so disappointed when he realized he was stuck with me. And then everything went red. I don’t even remember beating him up. Apparently I was on top of him, about to slam his head into the pavement by the time the teachers pulled me off.” She shrugged and took another sip of her coffee, hoping he wouldn’t push for more information, embarrassed that she had said that much. 

 He backed off, relaxing into his chair. “Alright then, wench. Enough philosophy for today. Now that I know something about you, let’s play a game, hmmm? It’s called: tell me what you already know about me.”

 She laughed. “This is an exercise in narcissism if I ever heard one. You want me to sit here and tell you everything I know about you?”

 “Every dirty little rumor you’ve ever heard and all the truths you think you’ve gleaned.” He sounded joking but there was a glint in his eyes that felt like a challenge. 

 

She never could back down from a challenge.

 

“Fine. You’ve been a client at Winterfell for nearly ten years, and you worked with Barristan Selmy the entire time. Everyone told Catelyn not to take you on, but she did anyway and now you’re a best selling novelist several times over. And yes, I’ve read them all.” She glanced down at his hands on the table. “You’re not married, because you wear no ring. You’re meeting me for coffee on a Saturday, and you called me at three in the morning because you couldn’t sleep— which implies you had no one to fuck— so I’m going to go with single.” She tilted her head, expecting a response, but he just gestured for her to keep going. “You come from an old, prominent family. Old money that’s managed to keep making money. Your father, Tywin Lannister, is CEO of Casterly Enterprises, which is named after your house’s ancestral seat at Casterly Rock. The business has been kept in the family for generations, so you were presumably groomed to take over your father’s place. But you became a novelist instead. I’m guessing your father didn’t like that, and I’m guessing that was half the point. So you’re rebellious, and I would say impulsive. But you’ve stuck the course out for long enough and produced enough material to be taken seriously, so you’re also stubborn.”

 “How does sticking to a career path that I chose make me stubborn?”

 “You worked hard to make yourself a career writer in as short an amount of time as possible and then kept up that level of production as a way to make sure your father couldn’t force you back into the business fold. You refused to fail. If I had to guess, you and he are actually alike in several ways.” She noted the tightening of his jaw. “But you hate me for saying it.”

 “Oh no, wench. Do continue. I’m enjoying myself.” His smile was sharp as a razor blade. She hated herself for thinking that glint of danger made him even more attractive.

 “Then you’re also a masochist.” He let out a barking laugh. “You have two siblings. A brother, who’s CFO at Casterly…I can’t remember his name.”

 “Tyrion.”

 “Tyrion Lannister, CFO. And you have a twin sister, Cersei, who works in…marketing, I think, also at Casterly. She married Robert Baratheon almost six years ago in a ceremony overlooking Blackwater Bay. The wedding colors were red and gold— Lannister colors— so the bridesmaids wore red dresses and the groomsmen wore gold ties.” She noted his surprise with amusement. “You were a groomsman at that wedding, but not the best man. Neither were either of Robert’s brothers, which everyone understood as an intentional slight. It rained that day, and I heard your sister throwing a fit during the reception that there had been no point paying money for a view of a rainy body of water. But you could see the lightening strikes over the bay from the windows all through dinner.”

 “How could you possibly know…”

“I was there, of course. Your sister informed Renly Baratheon that he was under no circumstances allowed to bring a boyfriend to her wedding. So I was Renly’s revenge.”

 Jaime shook his head, “I don’t understand.”

“Renly’s boyfriends were always the same: beautiful, charming, well-dressed, from a prominent family. If they hadn’t been gay, any one of them would have been quite the coup for your sister. So instead Renly brought me: an ugly girl from an old house that no one up here has heard of, with no money to speak of. But Renly knew I was just as annoyed at Cersei as he was, so I played along.” It didn’t hurt that I was still half in love with him at the time, but let’s not talk about that.

“You were at Cersei’s wedding? The whole time?”

She nodded and took another sip of her drink. It was getting cold. “But we’ve gotten off track. Cersei had children not too long after that, so you’re an uncle.”

 “To twins. Tommen and Myrcella.”

 “Twins must run in the Lannister gene pool.” Another pause as she figured out where to go next. “I know that most people find you difficult, and that your sharp tongue has a tendency to get you in trouble. You expect people to dislike you; you expect them to use your name and the incident with Aerys Targaryen against you.” She saw him tighten up, watched the tension run through his entire body at Aerys’s name. “See? I haven’t even expressed an opinion about it and you’re already coiled tight as a spring. You orchestrated this whole game just to see if I would bring it up.”

 His razor blade smile was back. “Well, come on then. Tell me I’m a monster for nearly beating a kid to death at my sister’s Cotillion. You won’t be the first, and you won’t be the last.”

 “And I attacked a kid on a playground because I was mad with grief and guilt and he said the right words to set me off. The only difference is that people were around to stop me.” She leaned forward, resting her arms on the table. “What I don’t understand is why. You’re not naturally vicious, by all accounts you’re capable of behaving quite rationally— but you never said what Aerys did to set you off. Never even tried to defend yourself.”

 “It would have never made a difference. No one wanted to hear why I did it, they just wanted to bury the whole story.”

 “I do.”

 He looked at her appraisingly. “Yes, well. A story for another day, wench. Finish your coffee.” He took a sip of his, eyeing her over the rim of his cup. “I’m not firing you. Yet.”

 

Chapter Text

Brienne opened her apartment door to find Margaery and Loras Tyrell outside wielding sweet smiles and two bottles of wine. “How was your meeting with the infamous Lannister?! We figured the wine could be either congratulatory or a consolation prize.” They waltzed in and Loras set to work opening the bottle of red while Marge made room for the bottle of white in the fridge. 

“I’ve been given a stay of execution. He’s agreed not to fire me for the time being.”

 Margaery tilted her head and looked at Brienne appraisingly. “How do you think it went?”

Brienne accepted a very full glass of wine from Loras and took a sip. “I think he’s going to keep me around. He knows he doesn’t have many alternatives, for one, and he’s at least grudgingly admitted that I’m intelligent enough for the job.”

 Loras leaned a hip against the kitchen counter, all jaunty angles. “What’s he actually like? We’ve seen him at various events over the years, so I know he's handsome, but we never actually had the chance to talk to him.” Margaery nodded and turned eager golden eyes towards Brienne.

She bit her lip. She wasn’t even sure she had a solid read on Jaime Lannister. “Well, he’s more complex than most people give him credit for. Whip-smart, sharp tongued. Not one to back down from a challenge.”

 “Mmmm, sounds familiar.” Brienne ignored Loras’ pointed glance and Margaery’s raised eyebrow. She was nothing like Jaime Lannister.

“Arrogant. Narcissistic. Has a massive chip on his shoulder. He’s a well-worn suit of armor with a soft underbelly.”

Margaery rolled her eyes. “And for those of us who don’t speak poet, what does that mean?”

Brienne sighed, took a gulp of wine. “He has a good poker face, but he’s more sensitive than he lets on. Soft spots, chinks in his armor— secrets he doesn’t want people to find out, things people do know that he wishes they didn’t. Combined with his temper, it’s going to be like working in a mine field.”

“Any explosions so far?”

Brienne thought back to the tension in his body when she had alluded to a secret, the moment when he had truly looked like a lion ready to pounce. Is that what he looked like right before beating Aerys Targaryen?

“There was a near-miss. But no explosions yet.”

 Loras flung an arm around her shoulder and clinked their wine glasses together, just softly enough to keep from sloshing. “Keep it up and we’ll be calling you Brienne the Lion Tamer.”

 Brienne rolled her eyes at Loras but noticed Margaery’s unusually serious expression. “What is it, Marge?”

 “I’ve known you for six years now, Brie, and I swear Jaime Lannister is the first man I’ve heard you talk about with any real degree of interest.”

 Brienne and Loras both nearly spat out their wine. “Professional interest! I have to know him if I’m going to work with him. Besides, he doesn’t even call me by my name. He calls me ‘wench’ all the time.”

 If anything, Margaery’s smile only got wider. “As far as terms of endearment go, I’ve heard far worse.”

 Brienne fixed her friend with a pointed glare. “No. Whatever budding delusions are forming in your head, stop now. That is never going to happen.”

 But Margaery just smirked and eyed Loras, communicating with their infuriating non-verbal sibling bond. Brienne sighed. Margaery was as stubborn as an ox, and if she convinced herself that Brienne was interested in Jaime Lannister as more than a client there would be no convincing her otherwise.

 

 

 

 

The first few weeks of her strange partnership with Jaime Lannister established a pattern. Since Lannister seemed to do most of his writing late at night (she was beginning to suspect he had insomnia), he would email her drafts or questions in the wee hours of the morning. She would look over them during the day and either meet him at the coffee shop in the afternoon or Skype him at night from the comfort of her couch a few times a week. He was more demanding than her other clients, who she talked to once a week at the most, but he also gave her text in smaller chunks. He clearly enjoyed teasing her, as Selmy had warned, and she suspected he had a goal of making her blush (in embarrassment or frustration, it didn’t seem to matter) at least four or five times per meeting. Unsurprisingly, he liked to save his most salacious comments for when they were in the crowded coffee shop-- apparently publicly embarrassing her was worth extra points.

 

He also seemed to delight in commenting on her appearance at every opportunity. Surprisingly not in the cruel way children had in school, in the way she had expected of him— mocking her height, her build, her teeth, her freckles. He instead consistently teased her for her seeming disinterest in looking nice for him. She had answered a Skype call once in an old pair of pajamas, a matching top and pair of pants that were covered in bunnies. What are you, five? Are those seriously bunny pajamas? No, no, I am not going to be able to take anything you say seriously with Peter Rabbit frolicking about on your chest. Either turn off the video feed or go change. She had turned off the video feed to spite him. What did he expect when he called unannounced after midnight?

She had shown up at the coffee shop fresh from a run more than once: sweat around her hairline, in a tank top and compression capris, wisps of hair loosed from her braid. Wow, wench. Thanks for fitting me into your busy day. Couldn’t bother showering before meeting me? You really do sweat more than is lady-like, you know that? I just hope you put on deodorant at some point-- maybe we should sit outside, just in case.

Those she could brush off easily enough. But when she had answered one Skype call after a photo-shoot with Loras, her hair blown out in bouncy waves, eyeliner smudged, and her usual reading glasses perched on her nose, he had whistled. Seven hells, wench, trying out a new sexy librarian look? I must say it rather suits you, but you need to loose a few buttons to get the full effect. And probably buy a push-up bra. How was the hot date? It would have been easier to deal with if she had heard the mean-spirited mocking in his voice that she had come to expect from men. He had sounded surprisingly sincere (although the push-up bra comment was back in familiar territory). She was fairly certain her face turned tomato red in record time at the half-compliment.

There was no date, had been no real dates, but she didn’t want to deal with Jaime Lannister’s reaction to that, let alone the truth: that she posed sometimes for her artist friend, and that was why she was all dolled up. So she had merely shrugged and struggled to change the subject.

 

As much as Lannister seemed to like keeping her off-balance, the longer she worked with him the more she knew how to anticipate his barbs, how to fire back. And she hadn't missed the pleased glint in his eyes when she managed a witty retort, which wasn't quite as often as she would have liked. 

But mostly she was just relieved that he had stopped threatening to fire her at the beginning and end of every meeting.

 

Chapter Text

Winterfell Publishing’s annual party was being held in the ballroom of one of Kings Landing’s fanciest hotels. Brienne had attended once before, in her first year as an official employee of the publishing house, as opposed to a high level intern. This time she was attending as an editor with five dedicated clients and she felt like she actually belonged in this fancy room filled with Westeros’ literati. She had managed to score the Lannister account and keep it, for over a month now, when no one else had really believed she was experienced enough for it.

 She had tried to dress the part with Margaery’s help, in an emerald silk dress with a deep v-neck that gathered into a knot at the side of her waist. Marge had claimed that the draping on the skirt created the illusion of fuller hips. Brienne was just happy that despite her broad shoulders, it was at least clear— even from behind— that she was a woman. She could show off her toned arms and legs without feeling too self-conscious, and she was grateful for the barely-there feel of silk on a night which was balmy and near smothering outside. The ballroom was only a little cooler. Brienne had just started searching in earnest for one of the waiters carrying champagne flutes around when a hand gently settled on her shoulder and a familiar voice called out her name. Brienne turned around to find Ellaria Sand, basically a goddess incarnate in a red silk jumpsuit with an even deeper v than Brienne’s dress.

“Ellaria! It’s so good to finally see you in person again!” Brienne ducked her head so Ellaria could peck her on both cheeks and turned to her companion.

“Brienne, I’d like to introduce my paramour, Oberyn Martell.”

He too, leaned in to kiss Brienne on the cheek. “Ellaria has been so effusive in her praise of you I was starting to get jealous. Not that I blame her: brains and a stunning figure are such a rare combination. I got lucky with this one.” Brienne blushed a little at the frank appraisal Oberyn made of her body, a gesture that felt appreciative instead of mocking, but relaxed when his arm twined around the small of Ellaria’s back.

Ellaria jumped in with a grin, “And I have good news! Oberyn was offered a position at the Academy of Fine Arts, so we’re moving to King’s Landing. We’re going to look at apartments this weekend, since we have to be all settled before the academic year starts. You and I will finally be able to meet in person more than once a year! So much better than trying to edit over Skype all the time.” Oberyn Martell was one of the premier contemporary artists in Westeros, a name that even Brienne was familiar with, and a sculptor known primarily for working with nudes— male and female.

Brienne allowed a genuine smile to cross her face. “That’s wonderful! Congratulations to you, Oberyn, the Academy is amazing. If you guys run into any problems with the move or have any questions about the city just let me know. A good friend of mine is an artist, Oberyn, and I’m sure he’d be happy to answer any questions you have in that realm.”

Oberyn looked pleasantly surprised. “And who is your artist friend?”

“Loras Tyrell. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of him, he’s primarily a photographer but he also does some stuff with mixed media. He graduated with an MFA from the Academy two years ago.”

Oberyn gave a thoughtful nod. “I believe I saw one of his works in the student gallery when I visited for my job interview. He seems very talented. You know him well?”

Brienne knew that the only photo of Loras’ still at the Academy was in fact a portrait of her, wearing an elaborately feathered mask. She was momentarily grateful that Oberyn hadn’t made the connection. “I was roommates with his sister all through undergrad, and we became good friends. I’ve been to his studio a few times.” At least once a month for the past several years. Brienne had never figured out how to explain her relationship with Loras. Was she a model? A muse? A friend that he took pictures of? She avoided the issue as a rule, and definitely didn’t want Oberyn to get the impression she was interested in posing for him. There would be no nude sculptures of Brienne Tarth floating around. Absolutely not.

Ellaria placed a hand on Brienne’s elbow. “Well, we should let you get something to drink. And Oberyn has so many people to meet since he hasn’t been to one of these before. But we’ll talk later, darling!” Another air kiss later and they were gone, the spicy perfume Ellaria wore still floating around Brienne and making her feel lightheaded. Gods, I need a drink.

 

 

 

Jaime hated these events. They reminded him too much of the galas he had attended so many times as Tywin Lannister’s son, where he had been expected to schmooze with Westeros’ elites in preparation for his future life as CEO of Casterly Enterprises. He had thrown that life away, but Catelyn demanded his presence at the Winterfell party once a year in return for his new life, like some modern Rumplestiltskin. He supposed it was a fair price to pay. He stopped and smiled for the professional photographers near the front door, as was expected of him, before strolling into the ballroom. 

Gods, it’s hot in here. Jaime felt a brief moment of envy for the women who could come to events like this in spare silk gowns, while he was already sweating in his designer suit. He wished he could rip off his tie and undo a few buttons on his shirt, but could practically hear his father (and Cersei) in his ear whispering about image and propriety and the Lannister family name. Bad enough he was some bohemian writer, the least he could do was not dress like one. He settled for unbuttoning his suit jacket.

He glanced about the ballroom, in search of a familiar face that he wanted to see— unlike Petyr Baelish, who was unfortunately always invited to these things as an old friend of Catelyn Stark’s. He spotted a blonde head floating above the other party goers’, and figured it must belong to Brienne, so he made a beeline for her. 

He was first surprised to see her in a dress and heels. Brienne had never made any effort to dress up after their first (admittedly disastrous) meeting at Winterfell, and even then she had only worn dress slacks and a button down shirt. Ever since he had made a point of teasing her for dressing so casually, for putting so little effort into her appearance when they met. He had simply assumed that she never wore dresses or skirts. And yet there she was, in strappy heeled sandals and a green silk dress talking to…Ellaria Sand? Ellaria Sand of 50 Ways to Please Your Lover and Spice Up Your Sex Life was talking to reserved, serious Brienne like they were old friends. Very good friends, judging by the casual touches and pecks on the cheek. And Brienne was actually smiling! He wasn’t certain Brienne had ever smiled at him before— plenty of glares, grimaces, scowls, and eye rolls, but never a real smile. Of course, that was probably because he insisted on teasing her all the time.

As an author, Jaime generally prided himself on being a good judge of character. This Brienne was not Brienne as he understood her. His Brienne would never wear those shoes, or be friends with Ellaria Sand. It did occur to him that ‘his Brienne’ should probably smile more than she currently did. As soon as she was alone, he walked up behind her, determined to reconcile this new information.

“Soooo, Ellaria Sand. You two are friends?” Brienne turned around to face him and he was greeted with yet another unexpected patch of skin from the low neckline of her dress. She looked…surprisingly decent, if not exactly pretty. And he had to commend her for the power-play of wearing heels, most people would have to crane their necks to look at her.

“Yes, Ellaria’s wonderful. Have you met her?”

“Mmmm, once or twice. How well do you know her, exactly?”

“About as well as I know you, probably better. She’s one of my other clients.”

Jaime chuckled in disbelief; he could not imagine Brienne editing paragraph after paragraph on oral sex techniques and proper orgy etiquette. “Right, Ellaria Sand is one of your clients and you edit all her works personally. Probably have for years.”

She gave one of her cursory nods. “Yes, actually. We’ve been working together for nearly two years now— she was one of my first full-time clients. Luckily we’ll be able to spend more time together in person now that she and Oberyn are moving here from Dorne.”

Jaime nearly choked. “Wench, you have to be joking. Ellaria Sand writes sex manuals. Like every sexual position possible and all its variations and benefits. In graphic detail.”

Was she smirking at him? She was definitely smirking. “Yes, Lannister. She’s also written articles on the benefits of sub-dom relations, role-play, and bondage. And I’ve read quite a few of them.” Jaime’s jaw dropped in disbelief. He watched as she leaned in closer, voice lowered, “She even gave me a few personal pointers.” She pulled away to look at him, and Jaime did not miss the little glint of triumph in her eyes at managing to turn Jaime Lannister speechless. Brienne patted him on the shoulder as she started to walk away. “And now if you’ll excuse me, I…have to go talk to Catelyn for a minute.”

Did Brienne have a secret twin? Was this some kind of invasion of the body-snatchers situation? What had happened to the bookish, overly cautious editor that had skyped him the evening before in her pajamas and blushed ferociously at every innuendo-laden statement he had ever made in her presence? Jaime was torn between being impressed by her boldness, frustrated at his own sudden inability to fire back, and confused by this new side to her. It appeared the wench was far more complicated than he had previously guessed. 

 

He didn’t hate it.

 

 

 

 

 

Brienne didn’t quite make it to Catelyn, not that she actually needed to. She felt someone run into her back and give her waist a tight squeeze before rushing around to face her. “Brienne!”

Clearly Catelyn had tried to get Arya to dress up for the evening, but her hair was already wild and her smile, as usual, was mischievous. The girl took her hand and started pulling her through the ballroom, chattering on about how Bran and Sansa had sent her on a mission to find Brienne and bring her over to them. The other two Stark children gave her warm smiles and quick hugs once she arrived in their corner of the ballroom. “I take it Rickon’s at home with a babysitter then?”

Bran nodded. “Mom says he’s still too young to come to events. Arya and I tried to convince her to let us babysit him so we wouldn’t have to come, but it didn’t work.” 

Arya scrunched up her nose. “At least Mom agreed to let me wear pants.” She suddenly turned to Brienne, a whirl of pent-up energy. “Brienne, my coaches want me to take ballet lessons and of course mom thinks it’s a good idea, because I would finally be a proper girl. What do you think?”

Arya was on her high school’s soccer and field hockey teams. Catelyn had recently lamented to Brienne about the sheer number of red cards Arya had accumulated the previous season. “My coaches told me the same thing actually. It’s a good way to work on balance and muscle control. You’ll stay on your feet better, be more precise in your movements. I didn’t like the idea of going to actual classes, so I ordered one of those ballet workout DVDs. You could always start there, and decide if it’s making a difference on the field. Maybe take classes later on, if that’s what you want.”

Arya tilted her head thoughtfully. “That could work. At least that way I wouldn’t have to wear a leotard or anything.” She let out a theatrical shudder. “Brienne, you’ll come to one of my games again, right?”

“Of course I will. And Sansa, let me know if you’re in another play at university. I loved seeing the last one.”

The redhead gave her a sweet smile. “Oh definitely! They announce the shows at the kick off meeting in two weeks. I hope we’re doing more musicals this year.”

Sometimes Brienne wondered if Sansa was a Disney princess come to life, with her perfect hair and sweet smile and love for song and dance. It was a miracle the girl hadn’t developed the easy superiority and casual cruelty so common to the young, beautiful, and wealthy.

Bran, the most serious of the Stark children, took a step forward, silently asking for her attention. “Brie? I finished reading that list of books you suggested. Do you think you could maybe come up with a few more? I won’t be able to go as fast once school starts, but I don’t want to get bored.”

“Of course! How about I think about it and email the list to your mom once I’ve got some good suggestions?”

He gave her a wide, boyish grin. “Great!”

Arya gave sudden jerk of her head, indicating an area of the ballroom just behind Brienne. “Code red, Mockingbird approaching.” Brienne watched as Bran and Arya subtly shifted to flank Sansa— Sansa who had suddenly tensed, her smile gone.

“Did you lot join the Department of Whisperers since I saw you last? Who’s Mockingbird?”

“Petyr Baelish, mom’s friend. He’s a total creep towards Sansa and we’re sick of it.” Bran nodded his head in agreement with Arya’s outburst.

“Sansa?”

The redhead sighed and shrugged her shoulders. “He just says things to me that are bordering on inappropriate, tries to get me alone all the time.”

“Has he touched you?”

Another shrug. She answered in a small voice, sounding far younger than her years. “Nowhere that’s technically inappropriate.”

Brienne stepped closer to the girl. “Sansa, I don’t care if it’s technically ok. Does he make you uncomfortable?” Sansa gave a small nod. “Does your mom know?”

Another outburst from Arya, “She says that he’s just a little odd. That we should trust him because he’s an old friend of hers. But he’s a creep!” Brienne put a hand on Arya’s shoulder to try and calm her. She knew all too well that Arya was not above resorting to physical violence, and would prefer she not attack Petyr Baelish during a corporate function.

Brienne turned to Sansa. “Look, I know for a fact that Petyr Baelish doesn’t like me. So if you stick close for the night, he’ll probably leave you alone.”

It was Bran who spoke up this time. “But why doesn't Petyr like you?”

“Because your mother came to me for help instead of him after your dad died.”

“But that’s stupid! Petyr would have made a terrible babysitter.”

“I didn’t say it made sense, Bran, only that he doesn’t like me. Which is apparently going to come in handy.”

Arya gave a business-like nod. “Okay, you take Sansa. We’ll run interference, just in case.”

“I hardly think that’s necessary…” Sansa quieted at a fierce glare from her younger sister. “Alright, then. I’ll go with Brienne. Just try not to get in any trouble?”

The two younger Starks insisted that everyone participate in a secret handshake before Brienne was permitted to lead Sansa in the opposite direction of Petyr. 

 

“I’m really sorry about this Brie, I know that most people use these events for networking…”

Brienne wrapped an arm around Sansa’s small shoulders. “Don’t worry about it. My client roster is already full, so I don’t need to network. I only come to these things because I know your mother will make me regret it if I don’t.” Brienne tried to distract Sansa, who still looked worried, by asking her about her sophomore year class schedule at King’s Landing University— giving her tips for the few professors she had had during her own time there. She was in the midst of explaining why Sansa should drop Aemon’s class as soon as possible (he’s blind and deaf, and a little bit crazy) when a familiar voice cut in.

“I thought you said you needed to talk to Catelyn, wench. And yet here you are with her miniature instead.”

Brienne fought the urge to roll her eyes at Jaime Lannister’s familiar aristocratic tone. “I’m afraid I was waylaid—“

“By the feistiest Stark child, yes. I noticed her barrel into you like a freight train.”

“Sansa, this is Jaime Lannister. Lannister, it is generally considered polite to refer to people by their actual names.”

Sansa’s eyes lit up and she turned to face Brienne. “Wait, so does this mean you’re his new editor?” Brienne nodded, letting out a whoosh of air as Sansa grabbed her in a tight hug, practically jumping up and down. “But Brie, that’s amazing! I knew you could do it, I told you that Selmy would give his approval.”

Jaime shot her a sharp look. “Selmy? What did he have to do with anything?”

Brienne sighed. “Apparently he had grown quite attached to you, so he wanted to make sure you would be in good hands once he left.”

“And here I thought you said I had no other options, wench.”

“You didn’t, Lannister. Selmy simply said he would stay on temporarily until someone suitable could be found to take over your account if I didn’t pass muster. So I gave him a portfolio and we met in person before I was allowed to meet with you.”

“Well then why didn’t you mention that you had been pre-approved by Selmy when we first met?”

Brienne was getting frustrated. “Because I didn’t want you to take me because Selmy said I was alright, I wanted you to decide for yourself. I wanted to know if you thought I was good enough. Just because you make it over the first hurdle in a race doesn’t mean you get to knock over the rest.”

“Such an honorable wench. Is that why you’re escorting Sansa around like some old-school chaperone? Afraid she’s going to partake in too much free champagne?”

Sansa was getting defensive on Brienne’s behalf, locking arms with her. “For your information, Brienne is helping me avoid Petyr Baelish. Because she’s my friend.”

“Baelish? If it’s him you want to scare off you’d be better off staying close to me, princess. He positively refuses to speak to me since I embarrassed him at a New Year’s party two years ago.” Jaime snorted. “Really, it’s not like I chose the little weasel’s career path.”

Brienne suddenly flashed back to an uncomfortable evening spent in Baelish’s club, Gates of the Moon, with Renly and Margaery during undergrad. “Sansa, does your mother know what Petyr does for a living?”

Sansa’s eyes were perfectly innocent and unsuspecting. “Of course. He owns a club downtown. She says it may not be the most distinguished choice, but it’s legal and he does well for himself.”

Jaime let out a strangled cough that Brienne could tell was meant to disguise a laugh. She simply patted the arm wrapped around hers and gave a tight smile. “Sansa, I need you to promise me something, alright?” A firm nod. “Promise me you will never go the Gates of the Moon. Ever. Understand?” 

Sansa looked confused but gave her another nod before holding her hand out, pinky cocked. “Come on, pinky swear.”  Brienne gave her a warm smile and hooked pinkies with her, laughing a little as the red head wrapped her arms around Brienne’s waist and hung on to her like a small child. Jaime was looking between the two of them, utterly perplexed, when the other two Stark children ran up and joined in the embrace.

“He’s gone! The Mockingbird has left the building.”

Sansa peered down at Arya and Bran. “You’re certain he’s gone?”

Two enthusiastic nods. “We saw him get into his car.” 

Brienne felt Sansa relax against her. Petyr Baelish had always given her the creeps, even if Catelyn Stark had known him since they were children. And Brienne knew for a fact that there was a considerable amount of illegal prostitution going on inside his club, and half the girls had looked underage, including the one that had attempted to proposition her. Brienne suppressed a shudder at the memory.

Sansa disentangled herself from Brienne and grabbed her younger siblings by their shoulders. “Come on, let’s let Brienne get back to work. I’ll text you the schedule for the season after my meeting. Fingers crossed we get to do something by Sondheim!” The redhead popped up on tiptoe to press a kiss to Brienne’s cheek. “Thanks for everything, Brie.”

Arya insisted on a high-five. “Let me know when your first game is, Arya. But try not to get thrown out half-way through this time, hmmm?” The girl rolled her eyes at Brienne but smiled.

Bran just gave her another hug. “Don’t forget about that reading list, okay? The stuff they’ve got on the syllabus this year looks dreadful.”

Brienne gave him a little salute. “I will try to assign less dreadful readings than your teachers. But I make no promises. Tell Rickon I say hello.”

With a chorus of goodbyes and waves the Stark children disappeared into the ballroom. Brienne wondered, not for the first time, at how much she felt like a big sister to them all, and how accepting they had all been of her.

“Would you care to explain how you came to be adopted into the wolf pack? I was expecting some sort of complicated secret handshake, maybe an invite to Sunday dinner at the end there.”

She had nearly forgotten about Lannister. “I helped Catelyn out when her husband died three years ago. Babysitting, getting the kids to and from school, tutoring them. She had to work really long hours to keep the publishing company afloat until Ned could be replaced, plus planning the funeral…” Brienne shrugged. “I basically lived with them full time for a few months. We kept in touch.”

Lannister was looking at her, really looking at her this time, and she resisted the urge to squirm. “Well aren’t you just an enigma, wench.”

“My name is Brienne.”

He smiled. “Mmmm, so you’ve said.”

 

Chapter Text

“Are you serious? I spend almost an hour putting that face on and you’re going to take it all off before heading out to meet the dashing Jaime Lannister?”

Brienne could see in the mirror where Margaery stood behind her, arms crossed and lips pursed. Brienne paused in wiping the makeup off her face to sigh and roll her eyes.

“Marge, I am not terribly interested in explaining to Jaime Lannister why I look like an extra from some robotic futuristic sci-fi film.” Loras had tried to go really dramatic with the make-up and lighting this time and Brienne swore she could feel her eyelids weighed down from all the product.

Margaery scoffed. “Extra, my ass. You are clearly the heroine of this made-up movie. And would it kill you to just leave the mascara on this time?”

Brienne made a point to carefully maneuver the wipe around her eyelashes, leaving Marge’s precious mascara intact. “Are you happy now?”

“I’ll take what I can get. Now take your bag— you’re already running late.”

Brienne dashed out the door, pulling a cardigan on over her unassuming tank top and jeans. Loras sauntered over next to Margaery with an eyebrow raised. “She’s not actually running late. Why do I get the feeling you’re plotting something?”

Margaery smirked. “I’m always plotting, dear brother.”

 

 

 

Brienne made it to the coffee shop on time, but Jaime already had both of their drinks sitting on a table in the corner and was glancing impatiently at his phone.

“About time you showed up, wench.”

Brienne slumped into the chair. “I’m not even late! Our appointment was for 4:30. It is—“ she checked her phone, “it is only 4:27.”

“Yes, that is true. But you are normally fifteen minutes early, and I have learned to adjust my arrival time accordingly.”

Brienne pulled out her notes and glared at him. “I will not apologize for being less early than usual when I was still not late.”

“Suit yourself then, wench. I will just make sure to be even more insufferable than normal.”

“Not possible.”

His response was cut off by Margaery Tyrell suddenly bounding up to Brienne’s side. “Brie, love, I’m so sorry to interrupt but you forgot your reading glasses.” She rummaged the case out of her purse and set it on the table in front of Brienne with a wide smile.

Brienne knew for a fact that she had put her glasses back in her own bag before she had taken off her makeup. “That’s funny, Marge, because I am pretty sure—“

Margaery silenced her with a pointed look that was at odds with the flippant wave of her hand. “I know, I know. What would you do without me?”

Brienne narrowed her eyes. “I’m pretty sure you don’t want me to answer that question right now.”

She was treated to Margaery’s sweetest smile. “Brienne, aren’t you going to introduce me to your friend?” 

I should have known. “Margaery Tyrell, this is Jaime Lannister. My client. Which you already know.”

The Tyrell charm was in full force as Margaery took Jaime’s offered hand in both of hers, mega-watt smile firmly in place. “Really, it is just wonderful to finally meet you. Brienne’s told me so much about you.”

Jaime’s grin was mischievous. “All terrible things, I’m sure.”

“What else would I possibly have to tell her?”

“Well I am witty. And pretty— apparently not pretty enough for you, wench, but it is sort of an undisputed fact. Punctual.

“For the last time, Lannister, I was not late!”

Margaery was watching their exchange with amusement. Brienne turned to face her. “I thought you said you and Loras have to be at Olenna’s by five?”

“We do, darling. But I couldn’t think of going without bringing you your glasses; I know you get terrible headaches when you don’t wear them.” She swooped down to give Brienne a hug and used the opportunity to whisper in her ear, “‘Not pretty enough for you’? Clearly you owe me some stories later.” A peck on the cheek and a bright wave later and Margaery was gone, floating out the front door and into a waiting car.

 

When Brienne turned back to look at Jaime he looked positively devious. “Margaery Tyrell, eh? I’ve heard rumors she swings both ways. Are you and she…?”

Brienne knew the game he was playing, and her first instinct was to make some kind of indignant none of your business response. But she was tired of him getting the upper hand in these verbal sparring matches and she was still annoyed at Marge for her little trick. “Why, Lannister? Does the thought of us together turn you on?”

She was gratified by his suddenly wide eyes and the strangled cough that came out of his mouth. She leaned over the table, a smirk already on her lips. “Oh, it does, doesn’t it.”

“What? I didn’t— that is not what I—“

She waved him off. “Sorry to burst your bubble, Lannister, but tragically Marge and I are both heterosexual. You’ll have to look elsewhere if you need fodder for your lesbian fantasies.”

He laughed then. “Alright, I deserved that.”

“Yes, you did.”

“Well then, how do you actually know Margaery?”

“We were roommates all through college. I got my own place when I started grad school since my hours were rough on her working a full-time office job. She tried moving in with her boyfriend at the time.”

“I take it that didn’t work out.”

“He was an ass. She only managed to live with him for 3 weeks before she threw a bowl of soup in his face over dinner and moved out.”

He looked a little freaked out. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. It wasn’t hot enough that he had to go to the hospital, if that’s what you were worried about.”

“She just seemed so sweet…”

“Marge is sweet when it suits her. But she can be ruthless and manipulative when she needs to be. Haven’t you heard the old saying about Tyrell women being roses with steel thorns?”

“I suppose I never gave it much thought.”

“Well I hope you’ve given more thought to that piece you’re supposed to submit to The Westerosi in two weeks or you’ve got a bigger problem than Margaery Tyrell.”

He nodded solemnly. “Catelyn Stark.”

“Bingo.”

 

Chapter Text

Brienne started awake and realized she must have dozed off while reading on the couch, her book resting on her stomach where she must have dropped it. Evie was pacing back and forth by the front door and meowing like she normally did when someone was outside. Brienne heard a faint thud from the hallway. She carefully edged open the door to find Jaime slumped on the floor in the hall. 

“Shit, shit, shit.” She quickly knelt down in front of him and tilted his chin up, taking in his blood-shot and heavy-lidded eyes. He reeked of alcohol. “Gods, Lannister, did you drink the whiskey or bathe in it?” 

His only response was a sound that could have been a laugh, a hiccup, or a sob. As annoyed as Brienne wanted to be at finding a drunk Jaime Lannister on her doorstep in the wee hours of the morning, she found herself hooking an arm around him, lifting him off the floor and tugging him into the apartment, calling Evie in from the hallway before she closed the door. She could feel his body starting to heave so she quickly marched him to the bathroom, grateful that he managed to keep from puking until he reached the toilet. She eased him down onto his knees and gently pulled off his suit jacket. She rubbed circles over his back and brushed his hair back from his forehead as he heaved into the toilet, white knuckled and shaking. She handed him a towel which he swiped over his face with a groan. Brienne could smell the alcohol in his sweat, and noted the pallor of his skin— he was nowhere near done and would have a killer hangover in the morning. In between hunching over the toilet he would occasionally mutter a half-coherent thought: why, how could she, why me, what now, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have. 

Jaime tried to unbutton his shirt with shaking hands, but after a few fumbling attempts Brienne waved his hands away and loosed the buttons herself, wiping the towel down his neck and chest to pick up the sweat that had pooled there, decidedly not looking at the bared skin. She had never understood, in all her years looking after Margaery, why drunk people felt the need to strip once they started puking.

Time after time, Jaime would lean over the toilet and heave while Brienne tried to soothe him with gentle touches and soft mutterings: It’s okay, you’re alright, don’t worry about it, it’s fine, deep breaths, shhhh. Over an hour later, he leaned back against the vanity and propped his elbows on his knees.

 “Are you done, do you think?” Jaime managed a shaky nod. Brienne stood up and rummaged around in her bedroom until she found an old t-shirt and pair of sweatpants that she thought would fit him. She held the clothes out towards him. “Can you get dressed on your own?” Please say yes, or you’ll hate me in the morning. Another nod from Jaime. She closed the bathroom door behind her but stayed close, poised to rush in if she heard the tell-tale sounds of a fall. Please don’t fall, if you do fall don’t hit your head, please please please. This had been so much easier when it was Marge and they were roommates and it didn’t matter how little she was wearing or if Brienne had to dress her for bed.She relaxed when she heard the door open and Jaime shuffled out, wobbly but upright.

 She gently led him over to the bed. “Here, sleep it off.”

 He looked at her with bleary eyes. “I’m really sorry about this.”

 Brienne bit her lip, unnerved by the defeat in his posture and his nonsense ramblings from earlier. “What are friends for? Go to bed, Jaime.”

 She left him in her room, flopped back on the couch and stared at the ceiling.

since when are Jaime Lannister and I friends?

 

 

 

Jaime opened his eyes to an unfamiliar room and a strange bed. His head was pounding, his mouth was dry, and pretty much everything hurt. He winced as he remembered flashes of the night before: attempting to surprise Cersei and finding her in flagrante with both Kettleblack brothers, her laughing at his surprise (Did you really think I’d been faithful to you all these years? Of course there have been others), him throwing back whiskey after whiskey at a bar down the street before stumbling to Brienne’s apartment. He had had to look up her address in his phone.

Brienne. He cringed as he remembered how she hadn’t even hesitated when she found him outside her door, all her soft words and gentle touches while he puked up his guts. He realized with another pang of guilt that she had given him her bed for the evening, and that she had probably slept on her own couch because of him. The bright white sheets smelled like her: almond and honey and magnolia and salt. Jaime rolled over to find a glass of water and two aspirin sitting on the bedside table, each settled carefully atop a note that read Drink Me and Eat Me in Brienne’s familiar scrawl. Am I Alice falling down the rabbit hole or is she? Jaime followed her instructions and then walked into the bathroom, brushing his teeth with his index finger and splashing cold water on his face. He found some eye drops on a shelf near the sink and used those, a desperate bid to make his eyes a little less bloodshot, feel a little less like rocks in their sockets.

He opened the door to the rest of the apartment, briefly wondering if Brienne would still be home or if she had left in order to avoid him. But no, there she was. Seated cross-legged on the floor of her living room, headphones in and eyes closed. He leaned against the doorframe to watch her. Jaime noticed her small smile as her cat rubbed across the small of her back before circling around and settling into the hollow between her legs with practiced familiarity. He wondered at how relaxed she looked, muscles loose and face serene, hair wildly piled atop her head. She had on a giant paint-splattered button down over a tank top and leggings. Brienne was unstudied and innocent and giving and warm— all the things that Cersei had never been, could never be, no matter how much Jaime hadn’t wanted to see it. Cersei, who would have recoiled from him the instant he started throwing up, who would have left him to take care of himself even if he had been on the verge of alcohol poisoning, who would have never stayed the next morning to see if he was alright. Cersei, who he had loved for half his life, to the point of self-destruction, and who had never really loved him back. He wondered how many other men there had been. Tyrion would know, probably would have told him if Jaime had asked, if he hadn't been so willfully blind. 

And now Brienne was wrapped up in all of it, even if she didn’t realize. Jaime still wasn’t entirely certain why he had made his way to her apartment instead of his own or Tyrion’s, which weren’t much farther away from the bar where he’d crashed, but she had been nicer to him than he deserved and now here she was meditating on the floor in front of him like drunk men took refuge in her apartment on a regular basis. Although for all he actually knew about her, maybe they did.

 

 

 

Evie woke Brienne up early the morning after Jaime’s dramatic entrance, demanding food and attention by jumping on Brienne’s stomach and kneading on it with her paws, her claws pricking through the fabric of Brienne’s t shirt. Brienne went through her normal routine, rummaging some fairly clean clothes out of her laundry basket, not wanting to wake up Jaime by opening and closing dresser drawers. She crept into her bedroom, avoiding the familiarly creaky floorboards, to deposit water and aspirin on the bedside table, studiously ignoring the man sleeping in her bed. The only man she had ever let into her own bed because she had a strict policy against bringing home her rare one-night-stands. 

 Margaery can never find out about this. 

She edited the most recent chapters of Jaqen’s new spy-thriller and emailed them off to Braavos before doing some yoga in the middle of her living room. She was cooling down and meditating with her headphones in when Jaime came out of the bedroom. 

 She felt rather than heard him come out, a change in the air and a prickle on the small of her back as she sensed him watching her. She wondered if he would tell her what had happened the night before to set him off. She wondered if he even remembered any of it and why he had come to her, of all people. Although in truth, she had come to the conclusion weeks ago that he must be lonely; he didn’t seem to have any friends. It also occurred to her that maybe putting him in her bed had been overly intimate and familiar, and maybe he would have preferred to sleep on the couch. And she had made sure to stay in the apartment so she could check on him this morning, but maybe she should have left so he could make a clean getaway and they could both pretend it had never happened. Brienne found herself floundering in the intricate unspoken rules of human interaction, rules she had never quite internalized, merely hoping that people would forgive her occasional gaffes in exchange for good intentions. But what was done was done, and she couldn’t bring herself to regret any of it.

 She finally pulled out her earbuds and opened her eyes to find Jaime staring at her with a kind of intensity she would have rather not witnessed, like she was a piece of abstract art that he was trying to understand through sheer will alone.

 She gave him a small smile, relieved when he shot her a genuine smile in return. “Good morning. So on a scale of 1 to 10, how much does it hurt?”

 His smile widened. “About a 7. Hopefully that aspirin kicks in soon. The Alice in Wonderland references were a nice touch, by the way.”

 “Well, I do pride myself on being a good host.” She watched as Evie hopped out of the hollow in her lap and strolled over to rub against Jaime’s ankles. “Looks like Evie likes you.”

 Jaime looked down uncertainly at the cat. “You think so?”

 Brienne snorted. “Believe me, you would know if she didn’t. Evie isn’t exactly shy.” She stood up and started towards the kitchen. “Come on, I’ll make you some toast. And there’s coffee already if you’d like some.”

 She could sense Jaime’s hesitation, practically hear his objection: You really don’t have to do this, blah blah blah. “And before you try to argue, my Daddy would disown me if he found out I sent a guest away without at least a cup of coffee. Southern hospitality still runs strong on Tarth.”

 Jaime scoffed. “You do realize that Tarth isn’t that much farther south than King’s Landing, right?”

 She raised an eyebrow. “Would you rather I called it old-fashioned hospitality? Maybe island hospitality? Either way, you have no choice.” She placed an earthenware mug of coffee in front of him and popped two pieces of bread in the toaster. “I have butter, jam, and peanut butter if you want something on that toast.” She noted his queasy expression with wry amusement. “But given your hangover it looks like you’ll be taking it dry.”

 “Do you have any sugar?” She passed him the jar of sugar on the counter, watching him plop several heaping spoonfuls into his mug. He glanced down in surprise; Evie was standing with her front feet on his leg and meowing. “Does she…want something?”

 “Attention. She wants you to pet her, maybe pick her up. Have you never interacted with a cat before?”

 Jaime shook his head and took a sip of coffee. “We weren’t allowed to have pets growing up. Too messy.”

 “But surely you had friends with pets?”

Jaime kept his eyes on his mug as he answered, “We never really went to friends’ houses either. My dad wasn’t a big believer in play-dates.”

Brienne could practically hear child-Jaime begging for a dog for his birthday year after year to no avail. She hadn’t had many friends growing up, but there had always been horses and dogs and cats around who hadn’t cared if she was too tall and too awkward. 

“Well, fortunately for you there’s no age limit on learning how to pet a cat.” She ignored the sound of the toast popping out of the machine. “Just rest your hand on her neck and run it down her back to the tip of her tail.” Evie purred loudly and arched her back into Jaime’s hand. “See? It’s not so hard. She likes to be scratched behind her ears and under the chin, too.” She noted Jaime’s shy smile with a little burst of warmth as he scratched Evie behind the ears. Brienne popped the two pieces of toast onto a plate and slid it across the counter.

He looked up at her. “Thanks. So, how long have you had Evie?”

“She was kind of a present after I graduated from University. I went back to Tarth for a visit that summer, and a barn cat had just had a litter of kittens, one of whom followed me out of the barn and back into the house.” Jaime had stopped paying attention to Evie in order to eat his toast, so Brienne scooped Evie up and settled her over her shoulder. “After a few days of her following me around constantly, Dad insisted that I take her back to King’s Landing with me. I named her after the old house— Evenfall Hall. It’s sort of the Tarth equivalent of Casterly Rock.”

Jaime looked surprised. “You have an ancestral house?”

“Yes and no. The whole island belonged to my family at one point, but that was hundreds of years ago. The manor house has been destroyed and rebuilt probably a dozen times. It’s Evenfall Ranch now.”

“Ranch? Are you secretly a cowgirl, wench?” Jaime tried to waggle his eyebrows at her, but winced from the attempt.

 Brienne snorted. “We raise horses, actually. No cows.” Brienne’s phone started ringing, so she put Evie down and grabbed it off the counter, mouthing a quick sorry to Jaime. “Hello?”

“Brienne, it’s Loras.”

“Hey, Loras! What’s up?”

“I just got a phone call from Oberyn Martell. He says you gave him my number? Since when are you friends with Oberyn freaking Martell?”

Brienne wandered into the living room. “We’re not friends, really. But I’m his girlfriend’s editor, and when I heard he was coming to King’s Landing to work at the Academy I thought it might be a good idea for you two to meet.”

 “He wants to take me to lunch to talk about the Academy and the arts scene in King’s Landing. He wants to visit my studio.”

 Brienne was having trouble telling if Loras was more excited or panicked at the prospect of such a successful artist entering his studio. “That’s a good thing right?”

Loras sighed. “I mean, yes. But it’s also kind of terrifying. Oberyn Martell is the kind of person who could make or break me.”

 “Look, Loras, I know it’s intimidating for you but this is the kind of opportunity you can’t afford to pass up. And I’m not 100% comfortable with this either— once Oberyn visits your studio my little secret’s out of the bag too. We both knew this moment would come eventually.” She glanced towards Jaime in the kitchen, still nibbling at his toast. How much can he hear?

“I know, Brienne. If you want I’ll cover your pieces when he comes to visit.”

 It was Brienne’s turn to sigh. “Loras, don’t be ridiculous. It would just be postponing something I knew was inevitable. Leave them up and let the chips fall where they may.”

 She could hear the smile in his voice. “You realize you’re basically my guardian angel, right?”

 “Let’s save the grand proclamations for after your visit with Oberyn, alright? I’ll talk to you later.”

 

 Back in the kitchen, Jaime was feigning innocence as he set his plate in the sink. “So, how’s Loras?”

 Brienne rolled her eyes at him. “Like you weren’t listening to that whole conversation. I know you better than that.”

 Jaime just shot her one of his signature smiles and shrugged. “Well, now that you’ve fulfilled your duties as host, I should probably get out of your hair.” His lighthearted expression faltered for a second as he caught her eyes. “Thanks for all this. Really. I…found out something about someone I thought I trusted last night, and…clearly I didn’t handle it well. But you shouldn’t have had to deal with the fall out.”

 Brienne tried not to blush at his rare show of sincerity. “It’s not that big of a deal, really. I’d rather have you show up on my doorstep than get mugged wandering the streets.” She gave him a crooked smile. “Just try not to make a habit of it.”

 Jaime looked down, seemingly realizing for the first time that he was wearing her clothes, including a t shirt for Tarth HS Softball. “Is it ok if I wash these clothes and get them back to you? You can throw away the ones I was wearing last night.”

 “Yeah, of course. Don’t worry about it.”

 Jaime gave her a salute and walked out the front door, grabbing his keys, wallet, and phone from the table in the entryway.

 

Brienne leaned back against the counter, trying not to notice how empty her apartment felt with him gone. How does one person take up so much space? She grabbed his rumpled suit from the bathroom floor, fingering the luxury fabric and noting the stitching inside from custom tailoring. It was easily worth a couple thousand gold dragons. And somehow, whatever had happened the night before meant that Jaime never wanted to wear this incredibly expensive suit ever again. 

What the hell happened to him last night? 

 And why do I care so much?

 

Chapter Text

Brienne felt heavy as she slipped on a pair of leggings and a sweater, watching as fat raindrops splattered against her window, turning the city into a soft-focus mosaic. She put on a pair of cheap flip flops, figuring there was no point ruining her sneakers in the rain. 

Fifteen years.  It was a long time to mourn, she knew. But it didn’t stop her from making the trek to the water every year on the anniversary of their deaths. Her father still went to the sept on Tarth, but Brienne had stopped believing in those gods a long time ago. Maybe the day one of her father’s army buddies had come for a visit, and explained that the only true god was Death. And what do we say to death? Not today. But growing up on an island, at the mercy of water her whole life, Brienne had come to respect the sea as she had never respected the Seven. No one was more powerful than the sea in full thrall. Nothing could give and take away like those unfathomable depths. And so in her own way she prayed to the waves: traded marble for sand, and incense for salt air, and hymns for the endless crashing of waves on shore and the cries of gulls overhead.

She set three small candles in her backpack, one each for her mother, Galladon, and Alysanne. She wondered if she would have felt compelled to hold vigil for them if the water didn’t still hold their bodies in its murky depths. If perhaps by burying them she could have also buried the grief and guilt. She set an umbrella in her bag as well, knowing that even with it it would be difficult to keep the candles lit until they burnt out. She had been doing this for long enough to know that much.

She heard a soft tapping at the door, and opened it to find Margaery in workout clothes, holding a dripping umbrella. Her smile was uncharacteristically melancholy. She gave Brienne a quick hug. “I thought I’d give you a ride down to the bay, keep you company for a while.”

Brienne blinked slowly. “Don’t you have work?”

“I told them I needed the morning off weeks ago. I never forget anything important, Brie. This is important to you, and you are important to me…”

How she had ended up with a friend like Margaery, Brienne still had no idea. But she blinked back a few grateful tears and finished gathering her things before following Margaery out to her car.

 

 

 

It didn’t take long for Brienne to feel chilled down to her bones. Water was running off her nose, down her throat, dripping from her hair. She and Margaery had rigged their umbrellas to sit over the candles settled in the sand, protecting them from the elements so they would burn properly— perhaps the only element of sept-vigils that Brienne had bothered to maintain when she moved her worship to the sea. They sat side-by-side in the sand for a time, silently staring at the waves, but Brienne sent Margaery to sit in the car with their things when the girl had started shivering. The last thing she wanted was for her friend to get sick because Brienne hadn’t found a more practical way to deal with her ghosts.

Brienne had always been at home in the water— a strong swimmer, unruffled by rain, prone to long showers and longer baths. It was the platitude that everyone had whispered after the accident: she was always a strong swimmer, not surprising that she managed to make it ashore if you think about it. Brienne could still remember the gypsy at one of Tarth’s carnivals who had told her she was a storm unto herself— the sea is a part of you, she had rasped, you have its power in your veins. Galladon had been better with the horses, and even at 13, he was always helping out on the ranch. Alysanne had been the sweet little princess, only 7 years old. Brienne could remember reading her bedtime stories about knights and princesses and dragons. 

She could remember waving goodbye to her father as he left for business on the mainland in their old pick-up truck. She could remember how lovely the day had been when they decided to go out in the boat. The picnic her mother had packed so carefully in the red plastic cooler, the summer strawberries that she had packed because she knew how much Brienne loved them. She remembered Alysanne’s tinkling laugh, her mother’s windswept honey-blonde hair. The moment they realized that a storm was on the horizon, and moving too quickly for them to beat it back to shore. The waves pouring into the boat, frothing around her ankles and then her knees. The boat letting out a groan as it capsized, throwing them out into the waves like ants. And then nothing but cold blue water and burning lungs and straining muscles and salt. The mindless motion of her arms and legs slicing through water, interspersed with desperate gasps for air. When she finally felt sand under her toes her legs were so tired that she could barely crawl to shore. She remembered retching up sea water, her throat and lungs on fire, before her shaking limbs collapsed on the sand. She remembered the panic in Goodwin’s eyes when he found her, rain starting to fall in fat drops. Remembered the striped blanket he wrapped around her shoulders. Remembered being carried back to the house. Remembered search parties and police and EMTs and finally her father’s arms around her.

They had held the vigil in the sept even without the bodies. For seven hours she sat still as a stone, watching candlelight flicker over sandstone and polished marble, still tasting saltwater in her lungs, still feeling phantom waves sucking at her ankles. The nightmares had lasted for months, leaving her with dark under-eye circles like bruises and pale as a ghost.

She could taste the salt on the air now, blown in from the Bay. Could taste her own dull, aching grief in the raindrops running down her cheeks. She could sense Margaery’s eyes on her from the car, could feel the stiffness in her own joints. Fifteen minutes later the candles guttered out, nothing but puddles of melted wax left under the umbrellas. She buried the hot wax with fistfuls of sand and collected the umbrellas and her flip flops before trekking back to the car, brushing as much sand off of her legs and feet as she could before climbing in.

Margaery had already laid towels over the passenger seat, and handed Brienne another to wipe off with after she sat down and closed the door. They sat, watching the rain fall in sheets through the windshield.

“Marge?” Her friend made a small noise of acknowledgement. “Do you think I’m crazy?”

Margaery laughed, but it wasn’t mocking. “We’re all crazy, Brie, every last one of us. Love makes people crazy. And as loathe as you may be to admit it, you love deeper than most. And that is why you come out here every year— because you loved them and they’re gone, and it hurts. But that doesn’t make you crazy.” She leaned over from the driver’s seat to give Brienne an awkward one-armed hug.

She turned on the ignition and pulled out from the curb. “By the way, Lannister called three times while you were out there. I told him you were busy and he’d have to wait.”

Jaime had barely contacted her since the night Brienne had taken him in, and she could already guess that he wouldn’t take kindly to her being unavailable now that he was finally ready to talk. “I’m guessing that didn’t go over well?”

“Oh, he was a total pain in the ass about the whole thing.”

Something in Margaery’s voice gave Brienne pause. “What did you do?”

Margaery shrugged her shoulders, somehow equal parts defensive and guilty. “He kept saying he couldn’t understand why you weren't answering your own phone, or why I didn’t know exactly when you’d be done. And who the hell was I to tell him he couldn’t speak with you anyway. So I may or may not have said that you were busy paying your respects and then hung up on him.” 

Brienne only barely resisted the urge to scream into the towel she was running over her face.

 

 

Despite her best efforts to towel off in Margaery’s car on the way back, Brienne was still actively dripping water as she climbed the steps to her apartment. The umbrella was swinging in to hit her thigh with every step, and she felt a sudden urge to hurl the damned thing down the stairwell, but took a few deep, calming breaths instead. By the time she reached her own hallway she reached down to take off her flip flops, tired of the wet squelching noise she made with every step, and when she finally straightened she saw Jaime Lannister once again sitting in the hallway outside her door. He straightened up as she approached, looking at her waterlogged form with a mixture of confusion and alarm. She jingled her keys and stared at him. “What are you doing here?”

He rolled his eyes. “You don’t answer your phone for hours, then someone else answers your phone, says you’re busy paying your respects, and hangs up on me without explaining. I was worried, wench. Apparently with good reason.”

Her fingers were stiff from the cold and she was having trouble getting her key to fit into the lock. Jaime grabbed her keys and opened the door for her. “If you’re carrying an umbrella why in the seven hells do you look like you fell into Blackwater Bay?” Brienne cursed the air conditioning in her building as her teeth started to chatter. Jaime gave her a little shove towards her bedroom. “Get dry, wench. We’ll talk once you’ve stopped shivering.”

Feeling a little like a scolded child, Brienne dripped her way into the bedroom, closing the door behind her as she began to peel off her wet things, her skin clammy. Evie sauntered over and started licking water droplets off of Brienne’s ankles. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, hair slicked back from her face, which was paler than normal, throwing her freckles into high relief. It was like seeing herself from that night fifteen years ago, face a little thinner now and hair a little longer. She felt tender, like bruised fruit, and utterly unprepared to face Jaime Lannister.

With a sigh, she pulled out a pair of sweatpants and one of her dad’s old cable-knit sweaters, before tugging on a thick pair of wool socks. She felt a bit foolish for dressing like it was the dead of winter, but her bones were cold and she wanted her teeth to stop chattering sooner rather than later. She plucked a hand towel out of the linen closet in the hall and started drying her hair, not bothering to wonder if it would stick out at odd angles or frizz. It wasn’t as if Lannister thought her some great beauty anyway— there was no illusion to spoil, no girlish hopes to foster with this one, even if he had developed some rather healthy stubble since his whiskey-fueled binge two weeks earlier. What should have dimmed his beauty— would have made lesser men look homeless and a little unstable— simply made him look a little more brooding, a little more mysterious. She couldn’t even pretend to be surprised at his good fortune.

She scooped up Evie, comforted by her purring as she walked back out into the living area. Jaime was standing in her kitchen, examining a few boxes of tea. He looked up, sheepish. “I thought I’d make you a cup of tea, but I confess I’m flummoxed. Irish Breakfast? Constant Comment? Ginger Lemon?” He shook a jar of loose tea at her. “And I don’t even know what this one is. Or how one would brew it.”

Brienne had a sneaking suspicion that Jaime had been raised with servants to brew his tea for him. She set Evie down on the couch and took the unmarked jar of tea. “There’s a guy who makes his own loose-leaf blends down in Cobbler’s Square— he made this one special for me, since I stop in every few weeks.” She shook the loose tea into a diffuser and dropped it into the waiting mug of hot water. She raised an eyebrow at Jaime, silently asking if he’d like a cup as well, but he shook his head. “For all you knew I could have been at a sept vigil for seven hours. Were you just going to wait outside my door all day?”

He waved his briefcase at her with a cheeky grin. “I brought supplies. Figured I could read, or pound out another chapter while I waited for you. And anyway, you clearly weren’t at a sept vigil. Don’t tell me you follow the Drowned God?”  A jape meant to get her to relax, disguise his own genuine concern; she gave him a small smile in acknowledgement.

“I don’t really follow any gods. My father still goes to the sept though, and I was baptized in the light of the Seven.”

“So you left the Faith. Because something happened?”

It was as good a segue as she could hope for, but she still found herself speaking to her mug of tea instead of his face. “There was a boating accident— a storm, fifteen years ago. I was the only one to make it back to shore. My mother, brother, and sister— their bodies were never recovered.”

“So you hold vigil for them every year on the anniversary of their deaths.” She was relieved to see that his face was serious, somber, no trace of his usual mocking tone.

“I light candles for them on the shore.”

“Rain or shine, apparently.”

“I’m not afraid of a little storm.” Oh, sweet child— you are the storm. There is saltwater in your veins and there are oceans in your eyes.

She busied herself with removing the diffuser from her mug and rinsing the used tea leaves into the sink. A precisely measured spoonful of honey proved that her fingers had finally stopped shaking.

“How old were you when it happened then?”

“Ten. Galladon was thirteen, and Alysanne was seven.”

“So it was just you and your father after that?” She nodded. “I lost my mom around that age too. Cancer.”

“I’m sorry.” She meant it, even though she knew from personal experience that it meant little.

Jaime shrugged. “We had time to say goodbye. That was something, at least.” He paused and drew shapes on the counter with his fingertips. She watched, mesmerized, before shaking out of her reverie and taking a sip of tea. It was hot enough to scald her tongue. 

It was his turn to speak without making eye contact. “I can leave, if you would rather be alone. I just...wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Normally Brienne spent this day by herself, only calling her father at night before she went to bed. But this year she wasn’t quite ready to be alone yet, and his presence back in her apartment after two weeks of near radio-silence felt like a kind of truce that she didn’t want to break. “No, I…you could stay if you want.”

His smile was like a sunrise, slow and sweet. “I’d like that.”

Chapter Text

 

Brienne knocked on the door to Jaime Lannister’s apartment with a tentativeness that made her hate herself. Why are you nervous? There is no reason for you to be nervous because you’re going to his apartment for the first time. At least you were actually invited here. He lived in one of those all-glass high rise buildings with marble lobbies and doormen in uniforms— a far cry from her small-but-charming second floor walkup. The door opened quickly, revealing a smiling Jaime Lannister, jaw shadowed with stubble and feet bare. It was the casualness of it all, the way he so seemed so utterly comfortable in this environment and in his own skin that had her back up. But then he was pulling her through the doorframe like a child eager to show off his new toy, and it was so hard to stay mad at him when he was like this.

She fought to keep the annoyance in her voice, not wanting anything like fondness to creep in and reinforce his tendency to behave like an overindulged child. “Are you going to tell me what was so complicated that we couldn’t discuss it on Skype? Or why we had to meet in your apartment instead of the coffee shop?” Instead of answering he pulled her to a stop in front of a blank wall in his living room. Well, what would have been a blank wall, except that it was now covered in color-coded notecards, Jaime’s spiky handwriting on all of them. She let out a small groan. “I didn’t realize I signed on to edit the next Catch-22.”

He simply gave her a self-satisfied grin. “And here I thought you were the one who was all about planning and organization. This should be right up your alley.”

She stepped closer and began to study the notecards, trying to work out the system by which they were organized and what each color meant. “I’m not opposed to your methods. But you’ve been living with this in your head for months, if not years, and I’m supposed to take it all in in one night.” She shot him a small glare. “And your handwriting is verging on illegible.”

“I never said you had to take it all in in one night.”

She started running her fingers in between the notecards, picking up on patterns. “The longer it takes me to understand the framework, the more time before I can help you through whatever roadblock you’ve actually called me here to help with.”

He stepped closer to her and tried to start explaining but she shook her head and pushed him out of the room. “No. I need thirty minutes alone with your wall. Then I tell you what I understand and don’t understand, and we go from there.”

He simply gave her a mocking bow and left.

 

 

She was fairly certain she had worked through the mess of ideas and characters and plot movements on the wall. It was strange for her to be so ingrained in the process of Jaime’s writing, to see the way his mind made connections. When he came back into the room Jaime thrust a handful of take-out menus under her nose and told her to pick what she wanted for dinner.

“Isn’t it a bit early for dinner?”

He held out his phone to show her the time…6:15. “I’ve been in here for almost two hours! Why didn’t you come get me sooner?”

He shrugged and sat down on the couch. “I figured you would come find me if you were ready. But then my stomach started growling, and I figured you could use a break.” He gestured again at the menus in her hand. “Come on. My treat, for making you puzzle through my convoluted notes.”

All of a sudden her own hunger hit her. She glanced down, realizing that they ordered from a lot of the same restaurants. Despite the undoubtedly huge disparity in their rent, their apartments really weren’t that far apart. She handed him the menu for the Thai place around the corner from her without opening it, “Curried fried rice. And tell them to add pineapple.”

He shook his head in disbelief and mouthed the word ‘pineapple’ at her, but was on the phone to place an order before she could defend her culinary quirk.

When he was done she pointed out the three notecards she had already pulled as troublemakers. They talked and argued and pointed at various notecards on the wall until they had both said their piece. She toyed with the corner of the notecard sitting on her lap, wondering why it was so much easier to do this with Jaime than her other clients— even if he did argue quite a bit, it was more out of a desire to rile her than any actual disagreement with her ideas. For someone with a reputation for being difficult he was actually quite amenable to criticism and feedback, and seemed to actually enjoy listening to her thoughts on his writing.

He stood abruptly. “I’m going to run to the bathroom. Keep an ear out for the door— dinner should be here soon. And remember I’m paying— if you so much as try to pay I will slip a fifty dragon note in your bag when you’re not looking.”

It couldn’t have been more than thirty seconds after she heard the bathroom door shut that she heard a slow knock at the front door. She walked over quickly and pulled it open, but instead of the usual delivery guy she found herself face to face with Cersei Lannister: carefully curled golden hair (a shade lighter than Jaime’s, but with identical emerald eyes) and painted red lips that quickly lost their smile and pursed into a thin line. The woman seemed verging on furious at the sight of Brienne answering the door.

Brienne shouted back into the apartment, “Uh, Jaime? Your sister’s at the door!” She thought she heard a few muffled curses coming from the bathroom. She turned back to face Cersei. “Sorry, he just went into the bathroom. Um, do you want to come in?”

Cersei shot her a look that made her feel like an awkward, ugly child again. “I think I’ll wait for my dear brother right here. Who are you, exactly?”

“Brienne Tarth. I’m his new editor.” She gestured vaguely towards the living room. “We were working on his next book.”

“Funny, I don’t remember Barristan Selmy making house calls. Especially not in the evenings.” There was something off in her tone, a possessiveness and suggestiveness that felt like a jealous lover staking a claim instead of a sister curious about her brother’s new acquaintance. Brienne took a closer look at her and noticed how carefully made-up she was, wearing shoes that Margaery would have referred to as ‘fuck-me heels’, and knew like a punch to the gut that the woman in front of her was wearing nothing but lingerie under her tastefully expensive trench coat. How she knew Brienne couldn’t have said, but the more she looked for glimpses of fabric the more certain she became that there were none to be found. Brienne felt a chill roll down her spine. She’s his secret. The word ‘incest’ started buzzing around in her head like an angry bee.

Jaime’s frantic footsteps echoed down the hallway, and she took a step back from the woman in front of her. “I’ll…give you two some privacy.” And because she couldn’t stop herself— “Nice to meet you.”

Cersei simply sneered back at her, beautiful as ever, but cold and hard in a way that Jaime had never been, even at his worst.

Brienne passed Jaime without looking at him, and feeling like a doormat for being so polite to his sister, she mentally kicked herself the whole way back to living room. Well at least Daddy would be proud that I remembered my manners. 

 

Brienne sank into the couch cushions in a haze, puzzle pieces in her mind slotting together. This was why he had reacted so strongly to her hypothetical life-ruining secret scenario at their second meeting. He thought I knew then. She nearly laughed at the absurdity of it; she had been referring to rumors that he might be gay, or a member of some secret sex club. Incest hadn’t even been on the list of conceivable possibilities. 

She knew now that his sister must have been the reason that Jaime was never photographed with other women, that he never brought dates to official functions. Guess all those tabloid rumors about him being a closeted homosexual aren’t true. The embarrassment of her brief infatuation with Renly surfaced at the back of her mind and she fought the hysterical laughter bubbling up in her throat. She really did have the strangest luck when it came to men.

She could hear Jaime’s voice from the hall, a low and threatening growl, and the answering siren song from Cersei, laced with promises and innuendo. He could have asked me to leave. If he had wanted to be with her, he could have asked me to leave. But he hadn’t, seemingly content to leave her hiding in his apartment while he argued with his sister at the front door. 

The final puzzle piece settled into place: Cersei must have been the reason he had shown up at her apartment a few weeks earlier; she was the one who had betrayed him in some way. A lover’s quarrel instead of sibling conflict. She wondered how long ago their affair had started, how early innocent interactions had turned carnal, how much their twin-ness had played into it all. Was it like having sex with a mirror? An unbidden image of the two of them intertwined flashed through her mind, all gold and green and red, but she slammed that Pandora’s box shut as forcefully as she could.

Would he know that she had figured it all out as soon as he looked at her? What would he see in her face? She wasn’t even sure what she was feeling— although she couldn’t deny that there was some degree of revulsion—  the narcissism of fucking your twin, the fact that Cersei was married and had kids, the fact that somehow Brienne had ended up being the one to put Jaime back together instead of Cersei after their fight. Was this Cersei’s apology? Weeks later, she showed up at his apartment unannounced for sex? Was that how they always worked: Cersei showing up for sex when it was convenient for her, jerking Jaime around like a puppet on a string, rutting in the shadows and leaving him behind to protect their secret? 

She was almost angry at herself for the tiny kernel of pity she felt—Jaime was no puppet, he was a grown man who had plenty of options besides his sister to keep him warm at night given his looks and his money. If she was as toxic and manipulative as she seemed, then he didn’t have to stay with her. Unbidden, Jaime’s voice came to her, a turn of phrase from one of his books: We don’t choose the ones we love. Maybe it was just an excuse, but maybe he had a point. The heart wants what the heart wants. 

She heard the door close, listened carefully and relaxed when she only heard one set of footsteps coming back. She didn’t try to make herself go back to normal, didn’t try to hide that she knew his secret. If there was going to be fallout it needed to come sooner rather than later. She was already too attached to Jaime Lannister as it was.

 

He paused in the doorway, wary of her, as though convinced she was going to pounce or throw something at him. She did nothing but sit and wait. As far as she was concerned, it was his move.

He gave a small nod, confirmation that he knew that she knew, that his secret was out. He collapsed into the armchair across from her, exhausted, looking older than she had ever seen him. “I always knew you were too smart for your own good.” He sighed. “So, what was it? That gave it away.”  

“Her voice.” She didn’t trust herself to say more, knew that he could go from somber to enraged in a matter of seconds if she said the wrong thing. 

He still hadn’t looked at her, not really. She realized with a pang that he was afraid to look her in the eyes, to find whatever judgement or disgust he expected to see. And even though she thought he knew her better, he was probably afraid of what she would do with the grenade she now held in her hands.

She cleared her throat. “You know when I started working for Catelyn, I thought editors just read stories and looked for plot holes and grammatical errors. But after a while, I realized that I was a secret keeper for every author I worked with. Their insecurities, their flaws. The things that fascinated them, horrified them. The stories they couldn’t let go, the ones they couldn’t finish. Why they couldn’t finish them. The relationships they liked to explore, the ones they avoided.” She glanced over at him to make sure he was still listening. “Sometimes I learned more concrete secrets— either because they told me or I figured them out on my own— but I have never taken that responsibility lightly.”

He rubbed his hands over his face, resting his elbows on his knees. His words were muffled, “I never thought you would tell anyone. You’re too good for that.”

But there was still something bothering him…“You’re worried that I’ll quit now that I know? That I won’t want to work with you anymore?” He gave a barely discernible nod. She sighed, weighing her words. “I don’t understand why you did it, and I’m not sure that I want to. But I never operated under the delusion that you were perfect. No one is— there is no such thing as a purely good or purely bad person.”

He was eyeing her carefully now, but she could hear the sharp edge in his voice. “That’s it? You’re just going to accept my flaws like some zen philosopher, as though fucking my sister were on the same level as jaywalking or filching a pack of gum from a corner store?”

“I’m not sugarcoating this. Your dark spot is bigger and darker than a lot of people’s. But you didn’t kill anyone, you didn’t rape anyone—what you did wasn’t malicious. Selfish, yes, and reckless. But whatever relationship you two have, however it functions, it can’t be compartmentalized. It is as much a part of you as anything else. So I am not going to abandon you and all this—” she motioned at the story board on the wall “—because you have a fucked-up relationship with your sister.”

“Had.”

“What?”

“Past tense. I told her that I was done a few weeks ago. The night that I crashed at your apartment— I had caught her with several other men earlier that evening. As fucked up as our relationship may seem, I was always faithful to her. Cersei said she had to get married to protect us, to protect our secret, but she also said that it was all for show— a partnership that the family needed. And so I forced myself to forgive her for that. But she always expected fidelity from me, and I gave it to her, without a second thought. And for a long time, I didn’t realize how fucked up it all was. I didn’t realize that everything was on her terms: that we only met when it was convenient for her, that I always had to go to her and not the other way around, that she was only affectionate when she wanted something from me. I threw away half my life to be with her because she was good at saying what I wanted to hear.” By the end of his speech he sounded horrified at himself and definitely a little bitter.

“So she was here tonight because…?”

His laugh was as sharp as broken glass. “Because Cersei has always assumed that her cunt can get her anything she wants. She thought that if she wrapped herself up like some fucking present and showed up at my door that I wouldn’t be able to resist, that I would forgive her and take it all back.”

Brienne wondered if this evening would have turned out differently had she not been there, if Jaime was really ready to sever a bond that ran as deep as she suspected theirs did.

They were both relieved when the doorbell finally rang, and Jaime went to pay for their dinner. But something was nagging at Brienne, an outstanding piece of her mental puzzle. She chewed her lip as she sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of the coffee table across from Jaime, and began opening the take-out containers in front of them.

“They’re yours, aren’t they? The twins.”

Jaime looked up at her, wary once more, despite the carefully even tone of her voice. She noticed the dark circles under his eyes, the crow’s feet in the corners of his eyes that she didn’t remember from before, the strands of silver hair threaded through newly-grown stubble. He at least met her eyes this time, although it felt like a challenge. Can you handle the truth you’re asking for; are you sure you want to keep my secrets? My secrets could swallow you whole. She held his gaze.

“Yes. One of Cersei’s many deceptions. She went off her birth control without telling me.”

Brienne felt actual anger for the first time and her first word came out as a hiss. “Reckless. Did she think no one would question a pair of blonde twins born to a father with black hair? What are those kids going to think when they start learning basic genetics in high school biology?”

Jaime shot her a wry smile, a brief glimpse of his arrogance returning. “Cersei never paid much attention in high school biology. I doubt the thought even occurred to her. I believe she was more concerned with finding a way to keep me in line after her marriage to that alcoholic oaf.”

“By dangling your own children just out of reach like a carrot on a stick?” He shrugged and took a bite of his food. Brienne, rather than feeling disgusted by the incest, was becoming increasingly horrified by Cersei’s seeming inability to plan more than two steps ahead, sickened by her own disregard for her children. “I thought your sister was supposed to be some cunning genius. What happens if Robert finds out? Did it even occur to her that you could sue for paternity at some point, get them taken away from her?”

Jaime snorted into his green curry. “And admit to incest? Publicly? Right.”

“The old Targaryen-era laws are still on the books, so incest is technically legal provided both parties are consenting adults. Neither of you would face legal ramifications, just a PR nightmare.” He raised an eyebrow at her. “You’d be amazed the kind of crap I have had to research. And besides— those kids could have been born with serious health problems because again, as anyone who took high school biology knows, inbreeding can result in a number of genetic disorders. Look at what happened with the Targaryens— one of them self-immolated trying to turn himself into a dragon! And what in the hell is going to happen when the twins find out?”

His voice was a low growl, “If. If they find out.”

Brienne actually dropped her fork and stared at him. “No, Jaime. When. Did you really believe no one would ever figure it out? It took me less than five minutes and you two weren’t even in the same room together! I’m not a bio major, I didn’t study genetics past high school and I figured it all out. It’s not rocket science.”

She could tell from the look on his face— somewhere between self-loathing and panic— that it really had never occurred to him that Tommen and Myrcella might someday know the truth about their parentage. How Robert Baratheon had missed it was completely beyond Brienne, but she suspected being a raging alcoholic was a contributing factor to his ignorance.

 

 

 

When Jaime had greeted his sister at the door that evening she had sneered at Brienne’s retreating back with the easy superiority of the wealthy and beautiful. “Who’s the freak, brother?”

We are, sweet sister. We are the freaks.

In the early years of the affair it had been the arrogance of spoiled youth: they were too used to getting their way, too accustomed to trouble rolling off their backs to worry much about being caught. But as time went on and their secret remained undiscovered (aside from Tyrion) it had been a whole different kind of arrogance. Hubris, letting them fool themselves into believing that the world was too stupid, too blind to pay much attention to the two of them.

In truth, Jaime had been furious with Cersei when he found out about the twins. She had been on birth control since they were seventeen, had claimed she never wanted to have children, but just as Jaime had started to have second thoughts about continuing their illicit relationship now that she was married, Cersei had announced that she was pregnant. Yours, she had crowed with a little triumphant smile. She had known that he would want to stay close to the children, that he wouldn’t be capable of doing any different because they were his. He knew just as well that anytime she wanted to she could withhold them from him— he was only their uncle after all, he had no right to demand time with them beyond what she so graciously allowed. 

He couldn’t even defend her from Brienne’s hissed accusation— reckless. They had always been reckless; golden children led to believe that the world owed them whatever they asked of it. Jaime had learned different after the incident with Aerys Targaryen; the world owed them nothing, and indeed most people would take great pleasure dragging them through the mud. But even though it had all been to protect Cersei, her name never came up in any reports and she skated through the incident untouched, unruffled. She had never learned that even lions could be burned.

How long, he wondered, could they keep the children from finding out? And would it somehow be better that way, for them to find out decades down the road— turning their whole lives on their heads— or for them to grow up knowing they were the family’s greatest secret? And once the dominos started falling, would it be possible to keep the whole world from finding out?

 

And there was Brienne, looking much as she had weeks earlier in her apartment: sitting on the floor cross-legged, meeting his gaze without looking away, keeping his secrets without resentment. She was not entirely without judgement, he could read that much in her blue eyes, but it was far gentler than he had any right to expect. She was far gentler than he deserved, and he couldn’t stop the tightening in his chest as she held out her container of curried fried rice with pineapple for him to try, as though he wasn’t some disgusting asshole who had an affair with his twin sister.

Brienne started talking about the book, asking him questions about characters and plot lines. He could tell she was grasping at normalcy now: needed a break from his secrets, needed time to herself to compartmentalize them and analyze her own feelings. He played along, trying to ignore the sensation that they were walking on a thin sheet of ice, stepping carefully to try and stop the fracturing under their feet. She wouldn’t quit, he believed that— but would they still have the easy rapport he had come to appreciate? Could things be the same going forward?

 

Chapter Text

Brienne decided to walk to Loras’ gallery opening rather than pay for a cab, reasoning that it wasn’t really that cold yet, and it wasn’t terribly far from her apartment, and the heels on her boots weren’t that high. She was wearing a pair of boots over black skinny jeans with a grey t shirt and a ridiculously expensive jacket that Olenna had bought her for her birthday last year. It was a really beautiful jacket, with black leather sleeves textured to look like dragon scales and a grey wool torso. She had nearly given it back when she realized how much it must have cost, but knew better when it came to Olenna. She would have simply bought Brienne something even more expensive and non-returnable to make a point.

 

The Sunspear Gallery, where Oberyn had arranged Loras’ first solo exhibition, sat in the shadow of the Red Keep near the Blackwater Rush in a posh district known for high-end boutiques, art galleries, and expensive restaurants. Loras had been suspiciously reticent about details, other than the time and place Brienne should show up for the opening and confirming that some photos of her were included in the show. Even with warning, Brienne was surprised to find her own blue eyes staring out of the gallery’s front window, behind black letters that read “ARTIST AND MUSE: THE ART OF COLLABORATION”.

Brienne tried to ignore the growing pit in her stomach as she pushed through the front door. Please don’t let this whole gallery be filled with pictures of me, please don’t make this about me, it was never supposed to be all about me.

Too little, too late. She could see her eyes, her hair, her shoulder blades, her collarbones, her freckles on every wall of the stark white space. In color and in black and white, sometimes straight photographs, sometimes Loras’ signature mix of photography and paint— what critics tried to label magical realism. It wasn’t that she was embarrassed by the pieces themselves, she was actually quite proud of them, but she had never understood what it was that Loras saw in her that he didn’t think he could get in a professional model. As far as most people were concerned, Brienne was unattractive: too tall, too pale, too freckled, features too prominent, shoulders too broad. Brienne had accepted long ago that she would never be beautiful, and yet, as she looked at herself through Loras’ lens she could almost forget all of that. She could certainly be powerful and striking, if not conventionally pretty.

 

The pieces seemed to be separated into series, some labeled explicitly and others simply arranged in isolation on their own walls. To her right was the Magical Realism section— the photographs that Loras painted over. Brienne’s back with a pair of painted wings sprouting from her shoulder blades, covered in iridescent blue feathers meant to match the color of her eyes. Another showed Brienne sitting on the rocky shores of Tarth, her legs painted over, hidden by a mermaid tail of silver scales, crystalline droplets of seawater looking so real that even Brienne was tempted to wipe off the canvas surface. The most recent piece showed Brienne sitting cross-legged in an oversize white button-down in Olenna’s library, reading glasses perched on her nose and a copy of Vanity Fair in one hand. From her perch on one of Olenna’s armchairs, she reached out to pet the golden mane of a giant lion seated next to her, mouth open in what could have been a roar or a yawn. ‘Hear me roar’ indeed. She had even gone with Loras to the art supply store to help choose the right shade of green for his eyes. Loras had titled the piece The Lion Tamer, the moniker he bestowed upon her when Jaime had finally agreed to work with her that summer. The last piece in the series was a half length portrait of Brienne in painted-on armor— a gleaming silver cuirass decorated with crescent moons and stars, flanked by pauldrons. On her head was a half-helm with a strip of metal covering her nose, wisps of hair pulling free from the braids just visible underneath. She looked fierce, all metal and stone and sapphires, like a warrior maiden from songs. 

There was a whole series of photos taken on Tarth: Brienne riding her favorite white horse bareback in her family’s maiden cloak; a shot from far away of Brienne as she stared at the frothing, stormy waters that had taken her family and sent her back from its depths as a child; her leading a horse along one of Tarth’s rocky cliffs, wind whipping her hair back from her face in an echo of the horse’s mane; laughing, in the flower crown that Margaery wove for her in a field of wildflowers. 

One wall was covered with smaller photos hung cheek-by-jowl: candids and behind-the-scenes shots. Margaery straddling Brienne on a couch as she carefully applied lipstick with a tiny brush. Brienne leaning against a wall of Loras’ studio, smoking a cigarette, half-dressed for a shoot with her favorite paint-splattered button down tucked into a formal skirt with a high slit, looking far cooler than she had ever thought possible. Brienne playing guitar. Brienne reading a book of poetry, her tortoiseshell frames making a second appearance.

 

There were many more pictures. Brienne realized that the entire gallery space had been turned over to Loras and more people had been invited to this opening than she expected. She was bumping into elbows and shoulders at every turn trying to spot one of the Tyrells in the crowd. Loras found her first. “Brienne!” He turned her by the elbow and popped on tiptoe to press a kiss to her cheek. “Surprise! Please don’t kill me.”

Brienne rolled her eyes in fond exasperation. “I suppose I’ll let you live, but don’t you think you could have warned me before I showed up?”

Loras draped an arm around the small of her back. “If I had warned you, you wouldn’t have come. And there’s a reporter from The Westerosi coming who wants to interview both of us, so I needed to get you here.”

A sudden flash of nerves turned her stomach sour. “A reporter? Why do they want to talk to me?”

“Because you’re half of the show, darling. It’s about the two of us and our marvelous working relationship. It’s quite singular in the contemporary art world, you know. Most everyone else has gone abstract. Not many of us still work with models, and even fewer are as devoted a pair as the two of us.”

Brienne knew of one other artist who still worked with models. She narrowed her eyes and made a vague gesture at the walls. “Did Oberyn have something to do with this particular theme?”

Loras shot her a look of feigned innocence. “Of course not. He and his girlfriend are totally not obsessed with you and did not insist on seeing every photo I ever took of you before curating this show. And they were absolutely not incredibly disappointed that you had never posed nude for me.”

Brienne groaned and covered her face. Ellaria had never been shy about her physical attraction to Brienne— but frankly it seemed like Ellaria had a physical attraction to everyone. Brienne certainly hadn’t expected Oberyn to share in his lover’s wide-ranging tastes. Margaery appeared on her other side and air-kissed her cheek, careful not to smear any lipstick on Brienne’s face. “The lady and gentlemen of the hour together at last. The reporter’s here; she’s waiting in the corner for the two of you.”

Brienne allowed Loras to steer her across the gallery via a hand on the small of her back, but started as she spotted an unmistakably familiar shade of blonde hair enter the front door. She hissed in Loras’ ear, “Please tell me you did not invite Jaime Lannister to this.”

He didn’t make eye contact. “Well, I can’t say I didn’t know. But Margaery is actually the one to blame.” Brienne muttered a few choice words about meddlesome friends as she craned her neck to track Jaime’s progress through the gallery.

 

“Hi there!” Brienne turned her attention to the reporter in front of her. She was slight, with long silvery-blonde hair and purple eyes. Definitely some Targaryen blood in this one. “My name’s Dany. You must be Brienne and Loras?” They shook hands. Dany’s grip was surprisingly strong for someone who looked so delicate. She held out a tape recorder. “Thanks for agreeing to talk to me. I’ll get straight to the point so you two can get back to the opening as soon as possible. How did you two meet?”

Loras answered, “Brienne was my sister’s roommate at university, and the two of them were pretty much inseparable. When I came back to King’s Landing for my MFA, I had to take a portrait of a family member for a class, and Brienne tagged along with Margaery. I had her stay in for a few test shots at the beginning and when I went back through the film that night there was just something so intriguing about Brienne. She has this presence that comes through on film, and that’s quite rare. So I asked her to pose for another project a few weeks later, and we’ve been working together ever since.”

Dany nodded. “Now Brienne, did you have any experience with modeling or posing before that?”

Brienne shook her head before she realized that the tape recorder couldn’t document a nod. “Not at all. I actually had always been pretty reluctant to get my picture taken. But Loras was really good at making me feel at ease, almost making the camera disappear.”

“So what is it about your partnership that you think makes it successful?”

“It all stems from trust and respect, without those things no partnership can be successful.”

“And Loras, do you agree with that?”

“Absolutely. But one of the most interesting things about working with Brienne was figuring out how to collaboratively come up with concepts for the shoots. See, I’m obviously a very visual person, but Brienne doesn’t really speak that language.”

“Right, I’m much more comfortable with literature and music. So Loras usually gives me an idea to start with, and I put together songs and quotes that I think flesh out that concept and pass them on to him. And we usually go back and forth a few times, swapping ideas. Sometimes it takes a month before we feel ready to shoot.”

“And sometimes I put together a kind of visual mood board or concept board to help out. But we always have music playlists for Brienne. It gives her something to connect with during the shoot, and I think that’s what helps to keep things authentic.”

Dany gestured towards the wall of candid shots. “I noticed a photo of Brienne singing and playing guitar on the way in— is that something you normally do?”

“Yes, I usually have Brienne perform a couple of songs from the playlist before we shoot, and then keep music playing in the background throughout.”

“And which project was the most difficult for each of you?”

Brienne leaned in to whisper in Loras’ ear, “I’m assuming that since Ellaria had a hand in this that the fetish shoot is in here somewhere?” He nodded back. She let out a soft sigh. “Loras had an assignment for art school where he had to tackle a 'taboo subject', so we did a shoot about fetish sex— sub/dom relations, that sort of thing— all in black and white. So that was definitely the most difficult for me. In part because it wasn’t a role that came naturally to me and because it was the only time that I was working alongside someone I didn’t know. Loras brought in a male model, and we met about five minutes before I was supposed to start taking his clothes off on camera.”

Brienne noted the slightly raised eyebrow on Dany’s face. “So how did you work on getting into character for that? Because I wouldn’t have guessed it was difficult for you, judging from the end result.”

Brienne desperately fought the flush creeping up her neck. “Um…I think the music playlist was really essential for that one— we spent quite a lot of time putting it together, trying to create a focused atmosphere for the set. And to be honest, Eric— the model— and I did shots of tequila fairly regularly throughout the shoot.” Dany let out a bell-like laugh. "Not sure I would have managed it sober."

Loras jumped in, “I think Brie and Eric just worked really well together. Almost going back to the trust idea we were talking about earlier— the two of them came up with a safe word for the duration of the shoot, almost like it was a real dom/sub scenario. And they fed off each other’s energy in a way that really brought the concept to life and made it feel real.”

Brienne prayed that Loras would be considerate enough not to mention that after what amounted to three solid hours of foreplay he had left Eric and Brienne the luxury hotel room for the night, or the hickeys that had marred her pale neck for days afterwards. Eric had been a one-time thing, the sexual tension from the shoot too much for either of them to take care of on their own. Once the itch had been scratched Eric was nothing more than a pretty, and fairly boring, face, and Brienne hadn’t seen him since.

Dany seemed to sense Brienne’s discomfort and turned back to Loras. “And what about you? Most difficult project?”

Loras thought for a moment. “Honestly, I think the entire Tarth series was a technical challenge for me. I’m used to working in a studio, where I control every aspect of the shoot, and on Tarth we were dealing with wind and changing light and live animals. The photo of Brienne on the horse, for instance— I had to stand on a platform to get a good angle of them, but the horse would move around and I couldn’t compensate because I was stuck on this tiny platform, so I had to trust Brienne to maneuver the horse the way I needed. I had to surrender a lot of control during that whole week and a half. It made me realize how difficult it must have been for Brienne all this time, actually. To enter a space that was controlled by someone else and sort of surrender to their will. On Tarth, Brienne was the one who was comfortable for probably the first time in our whole partnership.”

“I definitely think it’s more about comfort than control. I never really feel like Loras is controlling me, he doesn’t micromanage anything. But I am very much in his space, and his world when we work in the studio. We also didn’t have as many defined concepts for the photos on Tarth, so I was much more myself— and in a place where I felt comfortable being myself— so it was a fairly easy time for me. And I think my calm helped to keep Loras from getting too frazzled when nature wasn’t quite cooperating with his vision.”

They talked to Dany for another couple of minutes, discussing Loras’ training at the Academy and how he had come to develop a relationship with the Sunspear Gallery, before saying their goodbyes and giving Dany their email addresses in case she had follow-up questions.

 

 

Margaery swooped in as soon as Dany left and steered Brienne over to the table where they could grab champagne flutes. “So, I might have invited Jaime Lannister to this thing."

Brienne took a sip of champagne and glared at her. “Tell me something I don’t already know.”

Margaery’s smile took on a wicked turn. “He hasn’t left yet. And he seemed utterly mesmerized by a few photos in particular.” 

No. No no no. Don’t say it.”

Margaery simply waggled her eyebrows and laughed at Brienne’s mortified expression. The thought of Jaime staring at the photos from the fetish shoot made Brienne feel like her stomach was filled with writhing snakes. Why me?

 

 

 

The last place Jaime had expected to spend his Saturday night was an art gallery for Loras Tyrell’s debut. But when he had plucked a personally addressed invitation from Margaery Tyrell out of his mailbox, with a note saying that she thought the show might be of some personal interest to him— well, he couldn’t very well ignore bait like that. Especially not after overhearing Brienne talking to Loras about some sort of shared secret. And so he found himself staring at a photo of his half naked editor turned mermaid while art world notables dropped buzz words around him. He was fairly certain their reception of the works was positive, although they might as well have been speaking in High Valyrian for how well he understood their jargon.

He had spotted Brienne in a corner with Loras and a woman with a recorder, seemingly being interviewed. He was torn between being grateful that she couldn’t play interference with his viewing and disappointed that he wasn’t able to push her buttons as he walked through the gallery. He stopped in front of a wall of black and white photos, eyes widening and throat turning dry as he realized what he was looking at. Behind that leather mask was Brienne, in some kind of catsuit and thigh-high leather boots, making her legs look a million miles long. There was a man in a suit and tie sitting in a chair in the middle of a bedroom, with Brienne bent over him, one hand on the back of the chair and the other pulling him towards her by his silk tie. The next photo had Brienne sitting in the chair with her arms bound behind her back, the same man pulling down the front zipper of her catsuit with his teeth, exposing bright white flesh. Another showed Brienne handcuffing his arms to the headboard as she straddled his waist, her catsuit unzipped to just below her small breasts. Jaime fought to control his breathing, confused by his own reaction. This was just Brienne, after all. But it was Brienne as he had certainly never dared to imagine her.

“Enjoying yourself?”

He turned to find Margaery Tyrell regarding him with a knowing smile. She noted his slightly flushed cheeks and dilated pupils and raised a single eyebrow. “Well, I suppose that answers my question. Not that I blame you, I was pretty amazed with the results of this project myself. Although there’s another piece in here that I think will be of interest to you. For entirely different reasons, I should warn you. No need to get your hopes up.”

Jaime still wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the Tyrell heiress or her motives, but figured there was no use fighting her. “By all means, lead on.”

She grabbed his elbow and led him over to another wall of the gallery, this one covered in giant canvases instead of framed photographs. Margaery stopped him directly in front of one called The Lion Tamer and leaned over to whisper in his ear, “If it makes any difference, this wasn’t her idea.” 

He noted the small hint of worry in her voice, clearly concerned that he might be offended by the thinly veiled reference to himself. And maybe he should have been annoyed (his father would have probably sued someone), but instead he found himself smiling stupidly at the image in front of him. This was his Brienne (although he was fairly certain she normally wore pants when they skyped and would have thrown a fit if he used that possessive pronoun in her hearing), in her reading glasses and her messy hair, utterly nonplussed by the lion beside her. It was perhaps the most perfect embodiment of their working relationship he could have imagined. He pulled Margaery back before she could disappear into the gallery. “I don’t suppose this one is still for sale?” He pointed at the little red dot next to its label on the wall.

She faced him with a genuine smile. “As a Lannister, I’m sure you know that anything and everything is for sale. But Loras and I already put it on hold for you. A bit sentimental of us, I suppose, but we wanted it to stay in the family, so to speak.” 

 

 

About ten minutes later Jaime felt Brienne hovering over his shoulder as he stared at the wall of candid shots. He tilted his head in her direction, “I didn’t realize you smoked.”

She looked vaguely uncomfortable, shifting from foot to foot as she answered. “I don’t really. My dad does, and sometimes…after a long time of being somebody else for Loras, the smell…helps bring me back to myself, I guess. A way of grounding myself. It’s hard to explain.”

Her attention was suddenly diverted towards a group of well-wishers who had come up behind her, congratulating her on the show as she blushed and muttered thank yous, shaking hands with a few of them. He tried to tamp down the jealousy burning in his gut, wanting to grab her away from those strangers and force her to explain how he could have missed such a huge part of her when they had known each other for months, how there could still be so many things he didn’t know about her when she knew so many of his secrets. He didn’t quite manage to keep the bitterness out of his voice when she turned back to face him.

“I must say, wench, I’m impressed. Never figured you for someone secretive. But this, I mean this is what, years worth of work?”

She nodded reluctantly, a mix of pride and embarrassment on her face.

Jaime let out a low whistle. “And were you ever planning on telling me?”

She shrugged one shoulder and avoided his sharp gaze. “I never told anyone. And you never asked. Even after eavesdropping on my conversation with Loras.”

Jaime tamped down on the guilt building in his gut. “Would you have told me if I had asked?”

She tilted her head a little to the side as she looked at him. “Guess we’ll never know, will we?”

His fingers itched to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear, to smooth the crease on her forehead, to touch her somehow, but he balled his hands into fists by his side and looked away from her too-blue eyes.

“Well, wench, make sure you save a few secrets for me to find out on my own. Can’t have the Tyrells spoiling them all, you know.”

Chapter Text

Brienne was in Margaery’s apartment on a Sunday afternoon helping her plan her outfit for the Highgarden Charities Benefit when Loras barged in. 

“We have a problem.”

Margaery arched an eyebrow. “And this problem is?”

Loras plopped down next to Brienne on the bed. “The singer that grandmother hired for the benefit has come down with strep throat. There’s no way she will be well enough to perform in time.”

Margaery shrugged. “So we find someone to take her place. It can’t be that difficult, can it?”

Loras shot a her a look. “Margaery, we need to find someone available to perform nearly three hours worth of songs, who is willing to work for free. Who is willing to rehearse with the band whenever they have already scheduled rehearsal time. It really is that difficult. Everyone grandmother has called is either booked or laughed at her request.” Loras dramatically flopped onto his back next to Brienne, causing her to bounce slightly on the mattress. 

Brienne was staring at the duvet cover as she spoke. “What about me?”

The Tyrell siblings both stared at her in surprise. “Brienne, you’ve always been really private— I mean maybe a handful of people have ever heard you sing. You’ve never performed for an actual audience before.”

Brienne swallowed and met their eyes. “Actually, I’ve been performing at a bar in Cobbler’s Square called the Trident for a little over six months.”

Two indignant Tyrells whirled to face her. “YOU WHAT?!”

“Ok, I realize that maybe I should have told you. But I wanted to see if I could do it on my own, you know? No strings pulled, no favors called in. Something that I did by myself, for myself.” She took a deep breath and plowed on. “I already know a lot of the music for the benefit because I helped Olenna plan the set, so that shouldn’t be a problem. I make my own hours, so I can practice whenever the band wants. Most of the people attending have never even met me.  And so what if a handful of people realize that I know how to sing? Why is that so terrible?”

Margaery sat down on Brienne’s other side and took her hand. “It wouldn’t be terrible at all, sweetling. But I don’t want you to feel obligated to do something that makes you uncomfortable. If you do this, I want you to do it for yourself— not for us, and not for Olenna.”

Brienne shook her head. “You guys have been telling me I need to break out of my shell for years. And the fact is, I’m tired of caring so much about what other people think of me. I look at all those photos Loras has taken of me and I don’t see why I can only be that girl in the safety of a studio. I’ve been singing and playing guitar since I was a kid. If I can perform for all the people who worked on my family’s ranch and for strangers every week in a bar, I think I can handle one event.”

Loras and Margaery exchanged looks, communicating in their own non-verbal sibling language before nodding. 

“Alright. You’ll have to be approved by the Board, but they’ll do whatever grandmother says at this point.” Loras gave her a hug and stood up. “I’ll give her the good news and give the band leader your phone number.” He paused at the door and turned back around. “The Guardian Angel strikes again.” With a wink and wave he was gone.

Margaery turned to her after Loras left, casting an appraising glance at her legs. “We’ll need to pick out something new for you to wear. I’m worried about that slit in your skirt with you up high onstage. Besides, you’ll need to be comfortable.”

It had taken three hours of shopping with Marge before they had settled on the first outfit— Brienne knew she would only be changing her mind if she already had some idea of what she wanted. Brienne flopped back onto the bed and let out a defeated sigh. “I’m guessing you already have something in mind?”

Margaery smirked. “Well, I did happen across the most marvelous jumpsuit the other day when I was shopping for my dress.”

“Marge, are you crazy? Have you bumped your head and forgotten how tall I am? You really think that a jumpsuit off-the-rack is going to fit my proportions correctly?”

Margaery was already pulling her out the door. “Well, we won’t know until you try it on, will we?”

 

 

Brienne fought to control the butterflies in her stomach as she walked into the rehearsal space. The band leader had been nice enough on the phone, and tremendously relieved at how accommodating Brienne had been about rehearsal times, but there was that familiar little niggle of doubt at the back of her mind. What if I’m not what they wanted/were expecting? I learned to play from an old cowboy on a ranch, I’m not really trained. What if I mess up? What if they’re a bunch of rude jerks?

The litany was running steady in her mind as she walked into the room, but stopped short at the sight of not one, but two familiar faces.

“Brienne? Should’ve known it would be you.” Sandor Clegane clomped over in his heavy boots and clapped a hand against her shoulder. “The white knight come to save us from that tragedy of a tart they hired for a vocalist.”

Brienne laughed and gave the giant man a half hug, instantly relaxing. “Was she really that bad?”

Podrick Payne piped up from behind Clegane. “Well, she was certainly pretty enough, but she had the heaviest vibrato I’ve ever heard. And she never kept time properly. Clegane was about ready to throw his cymbals at her last rehearsal.”

Clegane let out a low growl. “No point playing the drums if she’s going to make up her own tempo every six bars. Thank the gods she came down with that mysterious illness.”

Brienne smirked, Clegane wasn’t one to suffer fools but he had never remarked on her own less-than-fortunate appearance, possibly because he had burns along one side of his face from some childhood accident that he never talked about. Pod was a sweet, quiet, college sophomore who was good with a guitar and vocal harmonies. They made a good team at the Trident, even if they weren't exactly close friends.

“I must say, I didn’t expect to find you two here. It's not exactly our usual gig.”

Clegane shrugged. “The pay was good and my bike needs some work done.”

Pod shook his head. “I’m not getting paid— if I play pro bono for a charity I can report it as community service hours and that completes a requirement for one of my classes this semester. Sounded better than picking up trash on the King’s Road.”

Brienne nodded. “I agree with you there, Pod.” 

Clegane wrapped a meaty arm around her shoulders and steered her further into the room, making introductions along the way. The other musicians seemed to take to her better after realizing that she already knew two of them— not to mention that most were probably afraid to cross Clegane, who very pointedly informed all of them that Brienne was a ‘friend of his’ and that ‘they should feel honored to work with her’. Pod trailed along after them like a puppy. Brienne briefly wondered when her bandmates had turned into bodyguards but decided to let it go— their hearts were in the right place.

“Jory! Come meet your new vocalist.”

Jory Cassel was the bandleader Brienne had talked to on the phone, in charge of organizing the various musicians and playing piano. He looked to be in his mid thirties, with a full beard and a wide smile. “Brienne, isn’t it? Good to finally meet you.” They shook hands. “I really appreciate you stepping up like this— as Clegane has no doubt already told you we were having enough problems with the last vocalist even before she got strep. Frankly it was kind of a relief to get a replacement.”

Brienne gave a self-conscious little shrug. “I’m glad to help. Where do you want me to stand?”

 

After a few songs, things began to run more smoothly as the band started to learn her physical cues for pauses and tempo changes. She was relieved to find that the musicians were in fact of a much higher caliber than the singer was rumored to have been. Brienne struck a few songs from the original playlist and replaced them with ones she could sing comfortably— although her voice was better than average, she didn’t have a particularly high range. She was relieved when the band didn’t attempt to mutiny at her suggestions.

It wasn’t long before they were able to run through songs without stopping and starting, and things felt as easy and natural as Brienne figured they could possibly be with so little rehearsal time. She noticed the door open and close as Margaery slipped into a chair against the wall on the other side of the room. Brienne barely resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Marge hadn’t been able to stop complaining about Brienne’s utter betrayal and lack of trust (only half-joking) ever since she told her about playing in secret at the Trident. She should have known that Marge would find a way to sneak into a rehearsal— Margaery Tyrell was many things, but patient was not one of them. 

 

Another hour and a half of rehearsal later and everyone was packing up to leave. Brienne said her goodbyes to Pod and Clegane, reminding them that they had a gig the next night at the Trident and saying she would see them there. Then she made her way over to Margaery, who was still against the wall, as out of the way as she could be.

“I should have known you’d find a way to spy on one of these rehearsals. I’m only surprised that Loras didn’t join you.”

“Renly’s in town early for the benefit so they’re having a date night.”

Brienne shoved her sheet music into her backpack. “And how is Renly?” 

Renly had gone off to law school in the Stormlands a year after finishing up his degree at King’s Landing. Widely considered to be the most charming (and the most flighty) of the Baratheon brothers, she had had a brief, albeit misplaced, crush on him for the first few weeks of their freshman year. In the back of her mind, she had always known that Renly was gay— could tell from the way he watched certain well-dressed, handsome business majors in their Intro to Psych lecture, but that had made him safe. If she never expected him to be able to return her affections then she could technically never be rejected. But the more weeks that passed the more foolish she felt for even trying to maintain some hopeless half-infatuation and had given up altogether. They were still friends, and Renly and Loras had been dating for over 3 years now.

Margaery waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, Renly’s fine. As charming and clueless as ever. It’ll be a miracle if that boy ever actually manages to graduate with a law degree at the rate he’s going. He says he only wants to take two classes next semester because he’s felt overwhelmed by the workload.” She stood up and began dragging Brienne out by the arm. “Now come along, I have a bottle of gin and some romantic comedies in my apartment that are calling our names.”

 

Chapter Text

“So, I’ll finally get to meet this woman who’s been taking up so much of your time lately?”

Jaime glanced down at his brother Tyrion, who was waggling his eyebrows suggestively. Jaime scoffed. “Yes, she said she’d be here. But you can stop with the eyebrows— it’s not like that.”

“Is that so, dear brother? So what is it like, then? Because I don’t remember you checking to see if Selmy was invited to these sorts of events. Now that I think about it, I don’t remember you having him over to your apartment, either.”

Jaime cast Tyrion a sideways glance. “Been talking to Cersei, I see.”

Tyrion let out a groan. “Against my wishes. She called me up in a fury, wanting to know what I knew about the blonde beast she found in your apartment. Took me a full five minutes to realize you hadn’t adopted some poor dog from the shelter.”

Jaime tensed, defensive on Brienne’s behalf, but Tyrion simply raised an eyebrow and gave a sharp nod. “I did wonder if she’d really lost her hold on you. I would suggest you refrain from hitting her at a charity benefit, however. The press would have an absolute field day.”

Jaime rolled his eyes. “Pretty sure I learned that lesson a long time ago, Tyrion.” His eyes scanned the ballroom in search of Brienne, but he still didn’t see her. “I don’t understand, she said she would be here early to help Margaery and Loras set up…”

“Well, it is a rather crowded room. Perhaps we should try over by the refreshments?”

Jaime followed his brother towards the bar, still scanning the tops of people’s heads. “She’s 6’3, Tyrion. I can normally spot her 3 blocks away.”

“Well then, we find the next best thing.”

For a terrifying moment, Jaime was worried that Tyrion was referring to Cersei. “What exactly does that mean?”

Tyrion gave a long-suffering sigh. “If she was supposed to help the Tyrells set up, then we find them and ask where she is. You could also text her, of course, but that might seem a bit desperate. Clingy, even. I know it’s sort of your style, but—“ He cut off as Jaime cuffed him on the head. His brother had always loved to tease him about how devoted he’d been to Cersei— only now that he actually realized how ridiculous he had been it made the japes harder to hear.

“Right, Margaery should know where she is.”

They spotted Margaery off to their left and cut through the crowds toward her. Her gown was silver, with a low draped neckline and floaty skirts. Jaime realized as he got closer that her belt was forged from metal— rose vines, complete with thorns. She kept glancing up at the stage, off to her right, and pursing her lips.

“Margaery Tyrell, I’d like to introduce my brother, Tyrion Lannister.” She turned her attention to the two of them with a bright smile.

“The Lannister brothers both! Grandmother will certainly be pleased, provided you both brought your wallets. I know Lannisters are famous for paying debts, and this is a charity benefit, after all.”

Jaime wondered, not for the first time, how she managed to say such things without offending him, but noticed with some amusement that even Tyrion was grinning at her. Apparently the Tyrell rose’s charms affected everyone.

“Yes, of course— I plan on being very generous this evening. However I was looking forward to meeting Jaime’s new editrix, Brienne, and he can’t seem to spot her.”

Jaime interjected, “When I asked her about it a few weeks ago, she said she was going to be here, probably early to help you set up…”

Jaime watched as Margaery’s eyes darted towards the stage once more, before turning back to him, brow furrowed. “Yes, well. She…”

 

Margaery was cut off as a voice boomed over the speaker system. “Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to thank you all for coming out this evening on behalf of Olenna Tyrell and the board of trustees at Highgarden Charities. I have also been ordered to remind you all that the silent auction is being held in the ballroom next door, and will remain open for the next two hours.” 

Jaime turned towards the stage, already knowing who he’d find standing in front of the microphone. Brienne was wearing a black jumpsuit with a plunging neckline framed by lapels. It was reminiscent  of a well-tailored men’s suit— sharp angles and crisp fabric, with slim-fitting long sleeves and pants that tapered in at her ankles. But rather than make her look more masculine, the neckline highlighted her surprisingly delicate collarbones, the belt emphasized her waist, and the sharp shoulders made good use of her build. She looked rather remarkable, actually.

He found her an odd choice for the welcome speech— it would have made more sense for Olenna or Margaery, or even Loras, to welcome everyone to the benefit— but he figured that he would just ask her about it when she came down.

Only she wasn’t coming down. She walked back to face the band, who was finishing filing onstage and setting up. She laughed at something the drummer said, a huge guy with burn scars on one side of his face. It looked like all the band members knew her, actually— saying hello as they filed by, a few of them saying things to make her laugh. And then the band started playing and Brienne was still onstage, and walking towards the microphone instead of the stairs that would lead her to the ballroom floor. Jaime cast a glance over at Margaery, who instead of looking surprised seemed to be…proud? Jaime turned back to the stage just in time to see Brienne open her mouth and start singing.

It was surprisingly good. She had a distinct, raspy voice that was well suited to the sort of bluesy vibe they seemed to be going for. But what surprised him the most was how at ease she looked— eyes bright, her voice steady. She didn’t look ungainly or awkward, although he thought he might detect a hint of nerves in the stiff set of her shoulders. 

Jaime felt Tyrion tug at his pants leg and looked down at his brother. “I’m going to take a wild guess and say that the vixen onstage is Brienne.” Jaime only managed a nod. “Really, she is not at all what I expected from my conversation with Cersei. It is a pity she’s much too tall for me.” Jaime started coughing as Tyrion smirked at him. 

He realized with a start that Margaery had sidled up next to them again. “It was a very last minute thing.” She motioned vaguely at the stage. “Our original performer fell ill and Brienne offered to fill in.”

Jaime couldn’t seem to get his brain to work properly and come up with a response. Tyrion tried to fill the silence. “She is certainly a remarkable individual. Jaime said you two are close?”

Margaery nodded. “Best friends, really. But even I didn’t know she could do this until I stopped by a rehearsal a few nights ago— I knew she could sing and play guitar, she’s done it for Loras and I before, but I never thought she could actually perform in front of an audience.” Jaime felt her eyes on him as she continued, “Sometimes I think we all take her for granted. Forget how special she really is because she doesn’t normally like to draw attention to herself. Apparently she’s been performing once a week at some bar across town, and managed to keep it a secret from all of us.” Her grin widened as she looked up at Brienne onstage. “I can’t wait to stop by one of her shows and surprise her. You should come too, Jaime.”

He managed a nod and watched as Margaery made her excuses before floating off to check in with Olenna. Tyrion started laughing. Jaime glanced down at him, annoyed. “What are you laughing at?”

“A few things, really. But mostly you, brother. You have actually been rendered speechless. And you look utterly entranced by her. Best learn to control that before Cersei finds you.”

“I am not! I’m just surprised, that’s all— I had no idea she could even sing. And what could Cersei possibly do? I’ve told her we’re over, and she has plenty of other options to entertain her now that I’m gone.” He didn’t quite manage to keep the bitterness out of his tone and wondered how long this particular betrayal would sting.

“Jaime, when has our sister ever given up her toys without a fight? And it isn’t you she’ll take it out on, it’s Brienne.”

 

[EARLIER THAT EVENING]

 

As grateful as Brienne was for Margaery’s help in getting ready for the benefit, she was relieved to finally leave the hotel room where they had been getting ready all afternoon and head downstairs. She had more pins in her hair than she ever could have believed necessary, but had managed to talk Margaery down from a full face of makeup— lipstick would rub off on the microphone, and she couldn’t stand the feel of false eyelashes. She hadn’t escaped without some bronze eyeliner and mascara but it was a far tamer version of Marge’s initial vision, and for that Brienne was grateful. 

The lobby of the hotel was already starting to fill with guests, the clack of high heels and the smell of expensive perfumes and colognes filling the air. Brienne was looking down at her phone when she nearly collided with someone. She looked up, ready to apologize, only to find glinting green eyes and impeccable honey blonde hair. She resisted a groan-- the last thing she needed right now was to deal with Cersei Lannister/Baratheon.

“Well, well, if it isn’t Jaime’s pet aurochs.”

Brienne ground her teeth and fought to be civil. “And good evening to you as well, Mrs. Baratheon.”

Cersei’s smile was cold and calculating. “I must say, I’m disappointed. I’d hoped to find out how ridiculous you must look in a dress.” She glanced disdainfully down at Brienne’s jumpsuit. “Although perhaps you were smart enough to try and disguise yourself as a man for the evening. No doubt it would be easier than the alternative.” 

Cersei looked perfect, of course, in a heavily beaded red silk gown. A Lannister through and through, no matter her last name. Speaking of which… “And how is Mr. Baratheon this evening? I do hope you’ll keep an eye on him; we all know he has a tendency to go a bit overboard with the alcohol at these sorts of things.”

Cersei’s eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly at Brienne. “He’s just checking our coats.” She took a step closer until the two women mere inches apart. It was disconcertingly intimate. “Let me be clear, freak. Jaime is mine. Always has been, and always will be. So whatever game it is you’re playing at, don’t get your hopes up.”

In her heels, Brienne was easily a head taller than Cersei. She drew herself up to her full height and looked down her nose. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Baratheon. I’ve never really been one for games. And last I checked, Jaime belongs to himself. We none of us have the temperament to be anyone’s pet.” Brienne sketched a mocking bow in the middle of the lobby. “If you’ll excuse me, I have business to attend to.”

What game does that woman think I’m playing? Does she think I’m trying to use Jaime for money, sex?— and with exactly what powers of feminine seduction am I to execute that plan? The woman cannot tell me how manly I look and simultaneously believe I am going to seduce Jaime Lannister of all people…

She walked through a service door and into the corridor between ballrooms where the band was set to meet. She waved and smiled and said hello to some of them as she passed, on the lookout for Pod. He was standing towards the front. 

“Evening, Brienne. You look really nice tonight.” He made a small gesture trying to encompass her face and figure, but the poor lad was so shy she barely even heard him speak. It was really a miracle how much he pulled together onstage with a guitar in his hand.

“Thank you, Pod. You look dashing yourself.” It was odd to see him in a suit, although it made him look older, in spite of his boyish face.

He ducked his head. “Thanks; it’s just a rental.”

She bumped his shoulder and shot him a cheeky grin. “Do you suppose Clegane will actually wear a suit like he’s supposed to?”

He smiled and gave a quiet laugh. “Nah, probably the usual jeans and black t shirt.” He lowered his voice in a comic attempt at imitating the drummer, “I sit at the very fucking back behind a drum set. Nobody will even notice if I’m not wearing a damned monkey suit.”

Brienne tapped the side of her nose and leaned in conspiratorially. “Trust me, Pod: Olenna Tyrell knows all.”

 

[PRESENT]

 

Despite Tyrion’s teasing, Jaime had not stopped watching Brienne onstage with a single-mindedness that really should have been embarrassing— but she was his friend after all. Friends were supposed to support one another in these sorts of situations, no? He was being supportive. No more, no less. 

His brother had at least managed to drag him to one of the high-top tables near the bar (one with a good view of the stage, of course). Jaime had to help Tyrion onto the bar stool, which was far too tall for a dwarf, but neither brother commented on it. Jaime knew that Tyrion was thankful, but still too embarrassed to point out the act— it couldn’t be easy to have your brother have to treat you like a toddler on occasion. 

Tyrion twisted to and fro on the high seat. “Well, I finally know what it is like to be normal person, brother. Perhaps I should buy one of these stools and add wheels to it so I can maneuver about at this height all the time. Although,” he dropped his voice to a sly whisper, “you can really tell how horribly ugly most people are from up here. I mean, would you look at that Walder Frey? The man looks like he must be two steps from the grave.”

Jaime turned to his brother and smirked, but a flash of red caught his eye. Cersei. “Tyrion, we have incoming.” 

Tyrion twisted around to see Cersei and Robert headed straight for them and gave an exaggerated eye roll. “Well there goes any hope of a pleasant evening.”

Robert detoured towards the bar as Cersei swayed up to the table and gave imperious looks to both her brothers. “Hello you two. Care to explain why you’re holed up in this corner?”

Tyrion’s grin was wicked. “Trying to avoid you, of course, sweet sister. And besides, we have such an excellent view of the stage from here, it would be a shame to give it up in order to mingle with a bunch of rich, simpering fools.”

Cersei rolled her eyes, a motion nearly identical to Tyrion’s moments earlier, and glanced at the stage. Jaime could see her eyes tighten and her hands fist as she recognized Brienne. “What is that beast doing up there?”

Jaime cringed, remembering with a pang of guilt that he had used the same word when he first met Brienne— and to her face, no less. Tyrion lashed out, “Performing, obviously. She really is remarkably talented—and I must say, sister, far prettier than you gave her credit for when we last spoke.”

Cersei scoffed. “That thing? No amount of makeup or clothing could ever make her pretty.” She whipped her head around to face Jaime, eyes narrowed and nostrils flared. “Right, Jaime?”

Actually she has the most beautiful eyes. And her voice is quite soothing. Nope, better not say any of that. “She might not win any pageants, Cers, but I think you’re being a bit petty.”

Tyrion took the opening and struck, “After all Cersei, even you lost the title of Miss King's Landing. Clearly beauty isn’t everything.” He batted his eyelashes at her.

Robert appeared at the table, already louder than was generally considered polite. “Well met, you two. Smart to get a spot close to the bar.” He planted a wet kiss on Cersei’s cheek and Jaime was proud to notice that the old clench in his gut was nearly gone. Let Robert have her— and the Kettleblacks and whoever else she had fucked over the years trying to get whatever it was she wanted. “So, what are the Lannister siblings talking about?”

“Jaime’s new pet is apparently the entertainment this evening.” Cersei waved a disdainfully limp hand towards the stage.

Robert nearly spat out his drink. “By the gods, is that Renly’s beard?”

Jaime’s stomach dropped at the triumphant glint in Cersei’s eyes. “What was that, sweetling?”

“Renly— when he came to the wedding he brought some giant of a girl with blonde hair. Must be the same one right? I mean there can’t be many women out there that look like that.”

“Indeed! Well, it’s hardly surprisingly the girl can only get dates from homosexuals. She does rather look like a man, doesn’t she?”

Robert laughed, but Cersei looked put out when she realized that both her brothers were looking at her disapprovingly.

 

The ballroom fell quiet, a lull between songs, and everyone looked up at the stage expectantly. Brienne leaned in to the mic and started singing softly into the silence. As the violins slowly started joining in a few beats later, Tyrion murmured from Jaime’s right. “Well what do you know? She’s singing Jaime’s song.”

It was ‘Addicted to Love’, but an arrangement that Jaime had never heard before. He pointedly ignored the barb of Tyrion’s old joke. He was now perfectly aware of how stupid and blind he had been because he loved Cersei and believed that she loved him back. But the song sounded sweeter coming from Brienne, and Jaime was once again transfixed by her presence onstage. He could sense Cersei reaching a boiling point just behind him. 

“What kind of convoluted nonsense was that?” She spat out as the song finished. “It’s supposed to be a rock song, not some tragic ballad.”

Tyrion was in full-on imp mode. “I found it to be quite spectacularly original. Mesmerizing, really. Jaime certainly seemed to agree.”

But Cersei could not be stopped. She went into a low-volume tirade against Brienne: her looks, her performance, her voice, her clothes, her stage presence. The soft way she was enunciating her words indicated that she was already a bit tipsy. Jaime started to tune her out in favor of simply ignoring her when someone else cut her off.

“Why Mrs. Baratheon, I had no idea you were so passionate about music.”

Jaime honestly believed the temperature around them dropped a few degrees as Olenna Tyrell breezed over, flanked by her grandchildren.“Brienne was kind enough to step in at the last minute to replace our original singer, who came down with strep throat. But something tells me this isn’t entirely about Brienne’s musical abilities.” 

Cersei’s spine was ramrod straight but her eyes had the manic look that Jaime had willfully ignored so many times before. “I’m not going to lie and say that I like the girl. I mean, she was positively rude to me in the lobby before the benefit started. But really, Olenna, I thought you were a bit more discerning when it came to your prized charity. She hardly seems the best choice for an event of this caliber. It is a miracle she hasn’t been laughed offstage already. At best her musical ability is average— it’s quite fortunate that the band is capable of carrying her dead weight. ”

Loras’ hands had curled into fists at his sides and Margaery had a hard glint in her eye that reminded Jaime why she had been named Olenna’s successor over all her older male relatives. But Olenna’s voice was a vise-grip: “Would you like to bet on that, Mrs. Baratheon? Because I dare say we would all love to find out exactly what Brienne is capable of.”

Cersei stared dumbly at the Tyrells. “A bet?”

“Yes. For charity of course. If Brienne can play the rest of the evening without the band’s help you will personally donate…1,000 gold dragons? What do you say?”

Cersei looked up at Brienne and her lips curled into a cruel smile. “Deal. I just hope she has the guts to do it.”

Olenna laughed. “Oh, don’t you worry about that. My Brienne has never been one to back down from a challenge. One could almost say she lives for them. No doubt it is why she enjoys working with your brother so much.” Olenna glanced pointedly at Jaime, before turning to back to his sister. “I do hope you brought your checkbook with you, Mrs. Baratheon.”

Olenna started to walk away, dragging Margaery with her. “Margaery darling, why don’t you go tell Brienne about the terms of the wager? And do reassure the band they will be compensated as promised, even if they just sit on that stage for the rest of night while Brienne does all the work. Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts in this town.”

Olenna floated off towards another group of people, soliciting donations, while Margaery stalked towards the stage, brown curls swishing back and forth. Cersei dragged Robert back to the bar, muttering under her breath.

Loras, surprisingly, came over to the two Lannister brothers and leaned against their table. “You don’t need to worry about her, Jaime.” Jaime watched as Loras glanced up at her with a surprisingly sad smile. “Brienne’s been proving people wrong for a long time— she’s gotten frighteningly good at it.” Jaime had to admit that Loras was right— after all, he had made Brienne prove herself when he first met her.

Renly Baratheon, who must have been watching the exchange from somewhere off to the side, came sauntering up with a drink for Loras. “Besides, if there’s one thing I’ve learned about my goodsister it’s that she isn’t nearly as smart as she thinks she is.” 

Tyrion snorted and muttered a quiet “hear, hear” under his breath.

Renly continued, “Brienne thrives on challenges. Cersei is going down.”

Loras laughed. “Besides, she’s more accustomed to playing without a band than with one.” He explained himself for Jaime and Tyrion’s benefit. “Brienne grew up playing on the ranch with one of her dad’s employees— Goodwin. He taught her when she was a kid. It was sort of cliche, but when Marge and I were down there last year everybody gathered around a fire pit to listen to Brie and Goodwin play— old folk songs mostly. She’s no virtuoso on the guitar, but she’s far more comfortable with it than without it.”

Tyrion raised his glass in a toast. “To my sister, for being too far in her cups to realize she walked right into Olenna’s trap. To Brienne, for being a constant surprise. And to my brother, without whom this would have no doubt been a pleasantly boring evening.”

  

 

Brienne noticed Margaery waving to her from the side of the stage, so at the end of the next song she signaled for the band to take a break. Margaery clambered up the stairs as soon as they stopped playing.

“Marge, what’s the matter? Is something wrong?”

The band left their spots to gather around the Tyrell heiress, curious. She hurriedly tried to placate the worried-looking band, “Don’t worry, Olenna is perfectly pleased with how everything is going. But one of our more difficult guests has decided to complain— basically anything she can think of to belittle Brienne. She’s claiming that the band are carrying you, compensating for your ‘averageness’ and lack of musical ability. And it’s not really in grandmother’s nature to ignore pointed digs at someone she considers family.” Margaery gave Brienne a sympathetic look. “Olenna managed to arrange a little wager. If Brienne can perform successfully by herself for the rest of the night then we get another 1,000 gold dragons for Highgarden. She’s clearly hoping to embarrass you in front of everyone.” She directed the last sentence at Brienne.

“Who the fuck is this bitch?”, asked Sandor. His normally gravelly voice sounded particularly menacing.

Brienne was fairly certain she knew exactly who it was. “It’s Cersei Baratheon, isn’t it?”

Margaery gave rueful nod. “She’s just threatened by you, Brie.”

Brienne shook her head. “Oh no, Cersei doesn’t think highly enough of me for that. She just thinks she’s found a new toy to play with.”

Clegane clapped a big hand to Brienne’s shoulder, her heels affecting her balance enough that she nearly toppled over at the impact. “Well, she’s a fucking cunt, if you ask me.”

Brienne looked around and realized that the entire band looked offended on her behalf. It was a small comfort. She tried to run a hand through her hair but was stopped short by Margaery’s bobby pins. “I can do it, but I'll need to figure what I can play on my own without sheet music…and I’d have to borrow Pod’s guitar. Mine’s at home.” Pod nodded at her.

Jory piped up, “We can always play a few instrumental numbers while you get yourself together. Wouldn’t be a problem.” Everyone started nodding around him.

Margaery gave a business-like nod. “Good. You guys play whatever you can think of until I bring Brienne back to you. Got it?” The band looked like a sea of bobble-heads. “Good.” She grabbed onto Brienne’s arm and started dragging her off the side of the stage. “We need a battle plan. I am not about to let that bitch come into my family’s event and try to humiliate you without any consequences. A thousand dragons is nothing to someone like Cersei. I want blood.”

“I’m not going to fight her to the death, Marge. Calm down.”

“I want blood. I will settle for a little public humiliation.”

Brienne groaned. Leave it to Marge and Olenna to turn this evening into a complete spectacle. And here I thought my biggest struggle for the evening would be remembering song lyrics. The two of them stood in a dark corner, scribbling song ideas on a cocktail napkin, rearranging and crossing out names every few seconds. Brienne repeatedly had to cross out Margaery's suggestions: I don't have the music memorized for that, I don't have the range to sing that, I don't even KNOW that one. Finally they had a short list of songs, many of which Brienne had been playing since her childhood.

Brienne eyed the last song on the list —Margaery’s request— suspiciously and tapped at it with the pen. “Are you sure Olenna’s going to be okay with this? It’s not exactly appropriate.” She had only learned the song after Marge had a particularly bad break-up because she thought it would cheer her up. Only Marge had a lot of break-ups and would often drunkenly demand that Brienne play it 'just one more time'.

Margaery snorted. “To be honest I think she’s hoping you’ll do something completely outrageous. You know how much grandmother loves a good scandal. Besides, it’s not like there are children here. It’ll be fine.”

"I don't know about this, Marge..."

"Brie, you are a strong, independent, talented woman who does not take shit from likes of Cersei Baratheon. And she needs to know that. Otherwise she will just keep harassing you and trying to belittle you and I will not stand for it. Neither should you."

Brienne sighed. "I guess you're right." She carefully patted at a particularly irritating patch of bobby pins on the back of her head in annoyance. Were they supposed to itch? Margaery watched her with narrowed eyes. “You’re right, I should do something with your hair.”

“What?” That was not what Brienne was going for.

“It’s too formal like this. You need something more youthful and relaxed to go with the intimate nature of a solo acoustic performance.”

Brienne rolled her eyes. “Sometimes I wonder if you realize how much you sound like a walking version of Cosmo. And not in a good way.”

“Oh, hush up.” Margaery motioned for her to spin around and began plucking the pins out her hair.

When Margaery had finished pulling out the twenty five bobby pins in Brienne’s hair (seriously, she counted), she made Brienne bend over at the waist and began combing through her hair and then shaking it out.

“Marge, what on earth are you doing?” 

“I used a lot of hairspray earlier, I have to break the hold. Plus your hair needs some volume.”

All the blood had rushed to Brienne's head and it was making her dizzy. “I feel ridiculous.”

Margaery finally allowed her to stand up. “Well you look fantastic. You’re welcome.”

 

The two of them climbed up on stage together, Margaery heading to the microphone and Brienne making a beeline for Pod and his guitar. She would need to adjust the shoulder strap for her longer torso before Margaery was done saying whatever she had planned. Brienne hadn't asked, and she was fairly certain she didn't even want to listen.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I’m sorry to interrupt, but if I could just have your attention for one moment.” Margaery paused, waiting until the ballroom fell silent. “One of our guests this evening has proposed a little wager with my dear friend Brienne.” She waved a hand in Brienne’s direction. “As marvelous as she’s been this evening, Mrs. Baratheon is curious to see what Brienne can do on her own, so Brienne has graciously agreed to perform by herself for a while. Now then, if Brienne does well, Mrs. Baratheon has agreed to donate an additional thousand gold dragons to Highgarden. If you’re feeling generous this evening, I hope you’ll match her donation before you leave.”

Brienne settled Pod’s guitar strap over her shoulder, checking the length. Pod sent her a shy smile. It felt strange to have their roles reversed, with her playing the nervous one, fiddling with her guitar strap and chewing on her lower lip. 

She picked up a stool to sit on, gesturing for Pod to grab the short mic that would go in front of her guitar. Margaery mouthed a quick knock ’em dead before she walked off stage to watch. They set up at the center of the stage, but when Brienne went to sit on the stool, she realized it was too short for her with the heels on, causing her knees to come up too high for comfort. She stood and toed off her heels, leaving them off to the side and giving the audience a shrug. A few people chuckled, and Pod finished adjusting the two microphones in front of her. 

Brienne settled onto the stool and adjusted her grip on the guitar, finding comfort in the familiar weight and the smooth polished wood under her hand. She started playing, imagining herself back on Tarth, at home, instead of in this huge ballroom filled with wealthy, powerful people. Let herself forget about the bet, about Cersei, and focused on the sound of her voice, and the movements of her fingers, and the words of the songs.

The audience was respectfully attentive, clapping at the right moments, keeping conversations to dull hum. She rarely looked at them, mostly because the spotlight they had shined on her turned her blind in an instant, and the few times she had tried it had resulted in a fumbled chord on the the guitar. But she was surprised to hear the ballroom fall silent as she sang '60 Years On', and felt all their eyes on her in the goosebumps that rose on her arms. She let her tired voice go gritty and raw the way that Goodwin had taught her, wailed and strummed, and was rewarded with the elusive yet pleasant little shiver between her shoulder blades that came when it all felt right.

 

Inevitably, she came to the final song in the set, Margaery’s pointed revenge. Although if Brienne was totally honest with herself, she was kind of looking forward to it, and was only sorry she wouldn’t be able to see Cersei’s reaction for herself.

“Alright everyone, before I finish up I wanted to thank you all for coming out to support Highgarden Charities and all the work they do for the poor here in King’s Landing. I do have one last song before I finish for the evening, and I’ve been told to make it count. So without further ado: ‘Sweet as Whole’.”

Sometimes I can be perfectly sweet,
Got this sugary me all stuffed up in my sleeve,
And I’ll talk of ponies and rainbows and things,
And I’m just who you want me to be.

But like most creatures down here on the ground,
I’m composed of the elements moving around,
And I grow and change, and I shift and I switch,
And it turns out I’m actually kind of a bitch. [the audience started to chuckle]

But that only happens when I get provoked
by some piece of shit asshole, we all sadly know,
and I sit and I write while reminding you all
that mean songs are still better than going postal.

But that guy’s an asshole.
And that girl’s a bitch.
Baby, it’s natural; there’s no getting away from it.
So sing it out with me,
And then let it go.
Fuck that guy, he’s just an asshole.

[there were definitely full belly laughs coming from the audience at this point.]

I see I've surprised you with some of my words,
and I know that surprises, while fun, still can hurt.
I hate to think that I’ve ruined your day,
You’re the dick and the queen of the high horse parade.
And I’m sick and tired of your poisonous ways,
You’re a toxin, wasting perfectly good space.
And I say what I think,
‘Cause it’s more economic than drugs or a drink.

But that guy’s an asshole.
And that girl’s a bitch.
Baby, it’s natural; there’s no getting away from it.
So sing it out with me,
And then let it go.
Fuck that guy, he’s just an asshole.

And I won’t let him in,
under my skin.
He’s a sad sack of shit,
it’s pathetic.
Just a festering sore,
that will never be more,
if I don’t let him.

But that guy’s an asshole.
And that girl’s a bitch.
Baby, it’s natural; there’s no getting away from it.
So sing it out with me,
And then let it go.
Fuck that guy, he’s just an asshole.

By the end of the song, the band had joined in the chorus, and it seemed, some people in the audience as well.

And gods, did it feel good to win.

Chapter Text

When Brienne finally made her way down to the ballroom floor and the adrenaline wore off, she was exhausted, and her voice was pretty much shot. She carried her heels, unwilling to shove her poor swollen feet back into the too-tight leather.

Margaery tackled her, squealing incoherently all the while, as soon as Brienne reached the base of the stairs.

Renly’s amused voice came from somewhere next to her. “Really, Margaery, you’re going to break the poor thing if you don’t stop shaking her like that.” 

Margaery pulled back. “That was so awesome! I mean, I wish Cersei had actually stayed for the whole song, but she stormed out like halfway through.”

She started waving around a slip of paper that must have been Cersei’s check. “$1,000 in Brienne’s name to Highgarden Charities, reluctantly donated by Cersei Baratheon. I swear to the Seven I am putting it in the newsletter like that.”

Renly edged in between the two women to give Brienne a hug, their height disparity putting his face neatly on level with her bare sternum. Gods, will this ever not be awkward? “Brienne! I must say, you made my trip worthwhile with that little performance. Not that seeing Loras isn’t always worth the three hour drive. But this almost makes up for the time we had to pretend we were dating for my brother’s wedding.”

Just because I was your plus-one didn’t mean you had tell people we were actually dating, Renly. Which I told you at the time.

“Guys, I know you’re all riding the victory high and I appreciate it, but I really need some water.” Her voice was a low croak, and she wondered briefly if she would be able to talk the next day at all. The benefit set was longer than her normal hour-and-a-half at the Trident, and she had had rehearsals almost every night that week leading up to it.

I’m going to be a mute for days. For some reason it didn’t sound so bad. She thought she might play sick and laze in her bed in complete glorious silence for the next 24 hours. This whole ‘coming out of my shell’ business had been significantly more dramatic than she had planned, and she thought that going back into said shell for a mini-vacation might not be such a bad thing after all.

Loras finally came back with a large glass of water and pressed it into her hands. She started swallowing it in large gulps as the Tyrell siblings and Renly tried to fill her in on what had happened down on the ballroom floor.

“Cersei just got angrier and angrier until her face was all red.”

“And then during the last song she just scribbled out the check and left it on her table and dragged Robert out the door.”

“She was like, so mad.”

“And Tyrion couldn’t stop laughing. I think he might have even cried a little. He’s the one who carried the check over to me.”

“Indeed I was.” Tyrion Lannister was suddenly standing next to Loras with a huge grin on his face. “I must say, Brienne, I was looking forward to meeting you when we arrived this evening, but at this point you are basically my new favorite human being.”

“Um…thank you?” She started coughing, her throat seemingly giving out completely now that she no longer needed it. She waved away Margaery's concerned cooing in annoyance. 

She caught Jaime’s eye where he was standing just behind Tyrion. Once he was sure he had her attention he slowly mouthed I am so sorry. Brienne shrugged. She couldn’t very well hold Jaime responsible for his sister’s actions. Her train of thought was cut off as Margaery started to usher her out of the ballroom, suddenly filled with motherly concern over Brienne's cough and tired throat.

"Come, come, sweetling. I'll drive you home, and we can pick up some of that herbal tea on the way. The one that's specifically for sore throats.”

Brienne groaned. Last time she had fallen ill while still living with Margaery, she had been forced to drink a minimum of four cups of Throat Coat a day. 

Margaery lightly pinched her arm in retribution. "It'll make you feel better. Now stop being such a child or I'll get Olenna."

 

 

When Brienne finally got home that evening, after a stop at the grocery store to get Margaery’s magic tea, she had a voicemail from Jaime on her cell phone.

“Brienne, it’s Jaime. I just wanted to apologize for Cersei this evening— and I know you’ll say that it wasn’t my fault, but if it wasn’t for us being friends she would have never gone after you. So I feel responsible, and I just wanted to say I’m sorry.” There was a long pause. “Also, you were really good tonight. So congrats. But you owe me, because you said you’d be there and I thought that meant we would actually be able to talk, and instead I had to spend the entire evening with Tyrion and Cersei and Robert. Which was, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, dreadful. And now Tyrion won’t stop talking about you and how you’re his new favorite person.” Another pause, this time filled with static. “Also, judging by your two-pack-a-day smoker’s rasp earlier, I’m guessing you won’t be able to talk tomorrow, so I’m going to assume our Skype meeting is cancelled. Unless you’re fine, in which case send me a text or something, I guess. Or we could probably use the chat function in our email. Whatever works for you. Anyway, I’m sorry again and have a good night.”

 

 

The next morning when Brienne woke up her throat felt tight. She tried to speak, but all that came out was a breathy wheeze.

She pulled out her phone and sent a quick text to Jaime.

B: My voice is completely shot. The gods must be punishing me for calling your sister a bitch so many times.

J: She deserved it.

J: Besides, if the universe worked that way Cersei would have been a mute from 14 on.

J: Probably would also be permanently bald or something.

J: Kind of disappointed I can’t take advantage of your current inability to speak. There are so many ways I could embarrass you and you wouldn’t be able to do anything.

B: I’d still be able to smack you.

J: Does Catelyn know you’re an abusive editor?

B: Where do you think I learned it from?

J: Point taken. Speaking of, Catelyn says I have to go to a party for my book release.

J: If I had known this was a result of becoming a successful writer I would have made a conscious effort to remain average. 

B: Haven’t you done this before?

J: Still hate it.

B: You’re being a baby.

J: Just for that, I’m going to make sure you have to come too.

J: It’s 3 weeks from now. On Thursday night. 5:30pm.

B: I didn’t have anything to do with this book!

J: Don’t care. 

J: Besides Selmy’s off enjoying his retirement in Qarth or something. 

J: I can’t very well not have an editor at my own book release. No one will be able to take me seriously.

B: YOU HAVE WRITTEN MULTIPLE BEST SELLERS. THEY TAKE YOU PLENTY SERIOUSLY WITHOUT ME.

J: There is no possible way I am going to change my mind about this.

J: Especially now that you pulled the CAPSY SCREAMING card on me

J: Ta ta, wench. Go drink some tea. Buy some cough drops or something.

 

Brienne tossed her phone down on the bed in annoyance, startling Evie awake. She then padded into the living room and pulled out her laptop, emailing Ellaria to cancel their Skype meeting for that afternoon. She made herself a cup of tea, and settled in on the couch, turning the TV on to watch one of the morning news shows.

She heard a ding from her laptop and pulled it over to see a chat from Ellaria.

Ellaria: What do you mean you've lost your voice? Are you sick?

Brienne: Not exactly. It's just from over-use I think.

Ellaria: From screaming at Jaime in rage or pleasure?

Brienne: Neither.

Brienne: Also please get your head out of the gutter. There is no screaming in pleasure with anyone. Especially not Jaime.

Ellaria: Why not? He’s hot, you’re hot. You’re both smart. Single.

Brienne: How did this even become a conversation?

Ellaria: I’ve been thinking about it since I saw you two at the Winterfell party. You’d look good together.

Brienne very much doubted anyone else would think that she and Jaime looked good together— he always looked good, but she was fairly certain he only made her look worse than normal by comparison.

Brienne: El, please stop thinking about my personal life and Jaime’s possible role in it. 

Ellaria: I make absolutely no promises. You seeing your boy today?

Brienne: 1. Not my boy. 2. I really did lose my voice, I can’t talk to him either.

Ellaria: Look me in the *metaphorical* eye and tell me you haven’t communicated with him this morning.

Brienne: I texted him to cancel our meeting.

Ellaria: And?

Brienne: We just talked about work stuff. Catelyn. He has a book release coming up. He’s making me go.

Ellaria: See, it’s like a date.

Brienne: It is for work. I am his editor. 

Ellaria: You didn’t work on this book. Thus it is a date. And nothing you say can convince me otherwise.

Brienne: You are a delusional kook. I am going to go take a shower now and forget we even had this conversation.

 

Brienne still couldn’t bear the thought of eating anything when she was done showering, nausea slowly building, so she lay down on the couch, half-listening to the TV. Evie hopped up to lay on her stomach, so she started petting her as her eyelids grew heavy.

When she woke up a few hours later, she was shivering and her body was slick with sweat, muscles twitching and cramping. She groaned and rolled off the couch, dragging her feet to the bathroom, rummaging out an old thermometer.

100.8. Congratulations, you have a fever.

She forced herself to drink an entire glass of water and took some cold medicine— she only had the kind that was meant to be taken at bedtime, but she figured she had cancelled everything for the day anyway and might as well sleep. She tossed back a shot of the noxious green liquid, grimacing at the horrible taste, and brushed her teeth before allowing herself to fall back into bed.

 

She felt hot and sweaty— why was it so warm? She looked down and realized that she was wearing the leather catsuit from Loras’ fetish shoot but no shoes. Where were her boots? She was supposed to be wearing boots. She started to look for them, walking through a red door off to her right, and ended up in a dark room. Jaime was sitting in a chair in the center, almost as though he had been waiting for her.

“Come here, wench, you’re late.”

She shook her head. “No, I’m not. I’m never late.”

He stood and walked closer to her. “You’re taking too long.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.”

“We had a date, wench.” He was speaking into her ear now, breath warm against her neck.

“No, we didn’t.”

He sounded frustrated now, grabbing her shoulders. “Yes we did, but you were late.”

 

The room dissolved, taking Jaime with it, and she was suddenly on a boat, rocking precariously in choppy waves. Margaery was sitting in front of her, dripping from head to toe. “Remember, Brienne: you love deeper than most. That is your blessing and your curse.”

“But I don’t understand what that means!”

Suddenly Margaery was gone, and Brienne’s father was sitting in her place. 

“I just don’t want you to be alone, starling. I want you to be happy.”

“But I am happy.”

He shook his head in disappointment. “Until you love someone you won’t truly now what it is to be happy.”

“But what happens when you lose them, Daddy?” He shook his head and disappeared, and the storm became more violent. There was a loud crack of thunder, and then a bolt of lightening came down, splitting the boat in half and dropping Brienne into the sea.

 

Suddenly she was back in the room where Jaime had been earlier. Only this time she was sitting in the chair waiting. He came up from behind her, running a finger along the back of her shoulders and then down the zippered front of the catsuit. She tried to speak, to ask what he was doing, but her voice was gone and no sound came out. He grinned and spread her knees, kneeling in the open space between them. He leaned forward to grip the zipper between his teeth and began dragging it slowly down, agonizingly patient where Brienne was burning. Once the zipper was down to just above her belly button he rose up, face even with hers.

He moved forward until his lips were centimeters away. “Choose, Brienne.”

“What?”

“You have to choose.”

His face began to distort and his hair grew longer until it was Cersei standing in front of her laughing in disdain. "You stupid cow. You can't beat me. Not with a face like that." She drew one long red nail across Brienne's cheek and down her neck, blood blooming in droplets along the raised scratch. "I always win. And you always lose." A dagger appeared in Cersei's hand, and she caressed it lovingly before plunging it into Brienne's stomach, knocking the breath out of her--

 

She woke up with a start, heart hammering in her chest, feeling woozy and sharp and electric all at once. She realized, in a sort of hazy way, that Evie was sitting on her abdomen and kneading it with her paws. 

Brienne let her head fall back against the pillows, vowing to never touch that cold medicine again if it was going to give her the kind of unsettling fever dreams she hadn't had since she was a child. So much for that mini-vacation in my bed. Thanks a lot, subconscious. 

Chapter Text

Jaime called her the next morning and she answered without thinking. A raspy, pained “hello” dropped out of her mouth before she could pull it back in.

“Wench, is that you? What the hell is wrong with your voice?”

Her throat was on fire. “Sick.”

“Does it hurt to talk?”

“Yes.” It hurt to swallow. Talking was pure agony.

“I’m coming over.” He hung up on her before she could say anything else.

 

His crisp, authoritative knock sounded at the door twenty minutes later. She shuffled over in her bathrobe and pulled the door open, ignoring the dull throb of protest from her aching arm.

“Gods, you look terrible.” He held up a hand. “Don’t talk if it hurts. Just nod yes or no.”

She nodded.

“Do you have a fever?” Nod. 

“Cough?” Shake of the head. 

“Have you been throwing up?” Shake of the head.

“Have you been eating?” A shrug. It was hard to eat when even swallowing tea was an ordeal.

“That’s it. I’m taking you to the doctor.” She gave him an exasperated look. “No arguing, wench. You probably have strep and you need medication if you’re going to kick it. Now chop chop, let’s go. Get some shoes on, grab your bag.”

She pulled off her robe, leaving it on the couch, knowing that Evie would get cat hair all over it while she was gone, but unable to care. She slipped her feet into the closest pair of flats and turned to look at him. She had on her baggiest pair of KLU sweatpants and her dad’s old sweater; she hadn’t showered that morning. She had no doubt he was right when he said that she looked terrible, but the truth was Brienne was an absolute baby when it came to being sick because it happened so rarely. If she had had the choice, she would have stayed in the soft, warm cocoon of her bed for days rather than go to the effort of seeing a doctor. But Jaime grabbed her bag off the table in the entryway and shoved her out the door without another word.

He ushered her out the door and into a cab, even though the urgent care center was only five blocks from her apartment. 

 

 

 

Jaime hadn’t realized just how sick Brienne was until she had opened the door and he had taken in her glassy, feverish eyes. There were spots of red high on her cheeks, but the rest of her skin was pale and had a sickly tinge. He could feel her shivering next to him in the cab, and was unaccountably furious with her for not contacting him, or Margaery or Loras, sooner to go to the doctor. He tried to help her out of the cab but she swatted his hands away with a furious glance— eyes burning into him as though asking if he wanted to get sick too. She pointed sharply at the bottle of hand sanitizer on the check-in counter, watching until he squirted a generous amount into his palms. Stubborn wench. She did at least allow him to do most of the talking, handing over her insurance card and filling out the forms in complete silence. She rolled her eyes at him when he followed her back into the exam room, but didn’t try to make him stay in the waiting area, which he reasoned must mean some part of her wanted him to come with her.

The doctor was an old man, with bushy white eyebrows and a soft voice. “What seems to be the problem, Miss Tarth?” 

Jaime saw her glance over at him, give him permission to speak. “She’s got a sore throat, can barely talk. She has a fever, but she hasn’t thrown up. It just started yesterday.” The doctor pulled out a thermometer, propped it under Brienne’s tongue. “I think she might have strep throat.”

The doctor pulled out the thermometer and wrote something down on his chart. “Open, please.” Brienne opened her mouth wide, and the doctor shined a light down, nodding his head. “We’ll run a test to be sure, but it certainly looks like strep to me.” He pulled a cotton swab from one of the glass jars on the counter, then swiped it on the inside of Brienne’s throat. Jaime watched her grimace and try not to gag. “I’ll go run this, and once it’s confirmed I can write out a regimen of antibiotics for you.”

He left them alone, Brienne kicking her legs back and forth on the bed like a little kid. 

“You should have told me yesterday that you were sick.”

She looked up at him, head cocked to one side. She shook her head and mimed sleeping. “You thought you could sleep it off?” She nodded, and for some reason he saw her neck flush red. “Why are you blushing, wench? Have any interesting dreams?” Her entire face was bright red and she kicked out at him with her foot, just missing his knee. “Don’t worry, wench. It’s perfectly understandable that you dreamed about me. I am the most handsome and annoying man of your acquaintance, after all.” She crossed her arms and glared at him.

Dr. Luwin walked back into the room before he could tease her further, confirming that she had strep and scribbling out an illegible prescription for some antibiotics. “Now, I’m giving you enough for ten days. You should start to feel better before then, but make sure you take them until the end, otherwise the infection could come back.” Brienne nodded, taking the paper from him with a small smile.

Jaime nudged her as they walked down the hallway towards the exit. “You hear that, wench? You’ll be right as rain long before my book release. Which means you still have to come, despite your best efforts.” She glared at him, both for making bodily contact and for bringing up his launch. Truth was, he couldn’t imagine not having Brienne there, even if she hadn’t been his editor when he wrote the book. It was occasionally hard to remember that there was a time when Brienne hadn’t been there, had been a ‘before’ when he worked with Selmy and actually managed to produce publishable material.

“Oh, come on, wench. There’ll be free alcohol and my sister won’t be there. How bad could it possibly be?”

She just shook her head and started walking towards the nearest pharmacy, and he fell into step next to her, laughing, and the sound made him realize how much he missed hearing her voice, her laugh. 

 

While she waited in line for her prescription at the pharmacy, he snuck through the store, snatching up a stuffed bear holding a heart embroidered with Get Well Soon! and a pack of her favorite chocolates. He paid at the register up at the front, carrying the bag back to where she was standing with a wide grin. When she looked at the bag curiously he just shrugged, not wanting to spoil the surprise just yet.

He dragged her to a stop outside the pharmacy before she could march back to her apartment and flagged down another cab, ignoring her exasperated hand gestures as he pushed her into the backseat and gave the driver her address. “Would you stop being so stubborn? I am not letting you walk home when you’re sick. Now calm down.”

She huffed and flopped back against the back seat, arms crossed over the bag of medicine in her lap. He waited patiently until her eyes drifted shut before tucking the bear under her arms and setting the box of chocolates next to her leg. Her eyes popped open in surprise and she glanced down at the bear, holding it out for inspection. She raised an eyebrow at him, and he could practically hear her asking him what on earth he was doing giving her a teddy bear.

“Well, you are sick, in case you haven’t noticed.” That earned him a frosty glare. “And since I will no doubt be forbidden to stay with you while you are still contagious, I thought I would send an envoy on my behalf to look after you.” He gestured grandly at the tiny stuffed animal. “Might I introduce to you, Bart the Bear.”

She rolled her eyes, but there was a smile quirking at the corners of her lips and she settled Bart more firmly against her abdomen before pointing at the box of chocolates. “Of course I know your favorite kind of chocolates. What kind of man do you think I am? You have a jar full of them in your kitchen and a second one on the coffee table in your living room.”

He was rewarded with one of her rare toothy grins. Thank you, she mouthed at him.

“Just get better quickly, wench. You’re no fun as a mute.”

 

Chapter Text

Brienne had just climbed into a cab when her phone started to ring. She finished giving the driver the address before answering the call. “Hi, Catelyn.”

“Brienne. Are you on your way?”

“I just got in a cab. Although I’m still not entirely sure why I’m required to attend the launch party for a book I didn’t actually work on. This was Selmy’s project.”

Catelyn spoke with the no-nonsense authority and warmth of a mother. “Because for some reason Jaime specifically asked for you to be here. And since he’s already ahead of pace on his next book I am more interested in keeping him happy than questioning him. I take it he’s not with you, then?” 

“No. Is he not there yet?”

“No, I don’t see him. Oh well, I’m sure he’s almost here. I’ll see you soon, Brienne.”

 

 

The taxi dropped Brienne off in the hotel’s underground parking garage. As she started towards the elevators she heard laughter and a thumping noise, followed by a keening sound, like a wounded animal. A few muffled curses. Not good. She ducked behind a row of cars and crept forward, pulling her cell phone out of her purse. She could see three men standing around a man on the ground. He had his arms up around his face as they kicked him in the ribs but she thought she caught a flash of crimson. Blood. She dialed 911.

“What is your emergency?”

“I’m the parking garage of the Omni Hotel on the Street of Silk, level—“ she glanced at the concrete barrier behind her “level P2. There are three men beating someone up. It looks like he needs medical attention.”

“Alright, miss. We are sending police and EMTs to your location right now. Can you tell if the victim is conscious?”

Brienne cautiously peeked over the cars to get another look. She felt her stomach drop as she recognized his golden hair and the ridiculous striped socks he always wore with his suits. “The victim is Jaime Lannister…I can’t tell if he’s conscious...”

Brienne vaguely registered the voice on the other end of the phone telling her to stay put until the authorities arrived, but she also saw that one of the men had taken a crowbar out of the trunk of a parked car and was advancing on Jaime. 

A weapon, she needed a weapon. She fumbled frantically through her bag, bypassing breath mints and old pens in search of her pepper spray— a gift from her father and the only remotely useful thing in her purse. She tried to think through her options— she was fairly certain she was bigger and stronger than two of the men, but the third was quite large— some of that may have been fat instead of muscle, but Brienne couldn’t afford to get a better look. She had three things going for her: the pepper spray, her size and strength, and for now, the element of surprise. That would have to be enough.

It had to be enough.

She slipped her heels off and left them on the ground next to her purse, realizing that the authoritative clack she so loved hearing on sidewalks was a liability she couldn’t afford. She took a brief moment to thank her hypochondriac father for always making sure she was up to date on her tetanus shots, seeing as she was about to creep around a city parking garage in her bare feet. She tucked her cell phone into the pocket of her slacks, making sure the line to 911 was still open, and began crawling along the wall of cars, grateful that no one had pulled too close to the wall for her to sneak past (although she felt her pants’ leg snag and rip on one bumper) and that the garage was just full enough to keep her hidden.

By the time she drew even with the men she realized that one of them had already started swinging the crowbar at Jaime— but for some reason he seemed to be focusing his blows on Jaime’s hand, which was being held in place by another man’s foot on his forearm. Jaime was frighteningly quiet. Grateful that their attention was focused on the ground and not in her direction, Brienne crept up behind the man wielding the crow bar and grabbed it with her right hand on his next back swing, trying not to notice how slippery it was with blood as she pulled him around to face her so she could spray him with the pepper spray in her left hand. As she had hoped, he dropped the crowbar in favor of grabbing at his face, screaming curses at her as he staggered around blindly. He managed to elbow her in the hipbone, but she drove her knee up into his stomach, knocking the air out of him and dropping him to the ground. She turned and sprayed the other two men with the pepper spray, praying that it wouldn’t run out or blow back in her face, watching in satisfaction as they started staggering blindly. She dropped the canister to the ground and adjusted her grip on the crow bar, wiping her bloody palm on her thigh before striking out at the men, aiming for tender spots. Adrenaline meant that her swings were hard, if not exactly precise, and she couldn’t even pretend to be surprised at her own brutality. A firm thwack to a kneecap here, a piercing jab to the chest followed by a swing to the back of the neck there. The crunch of a broken collarbone and a kick to the balls for good measure. Soon enough she had all three men lying on the ground around Jaime. 

Jaime, who still hadn’t tried to get up.

Brienne kept a firm grip on the crow bar in case any of the men moved and pulled out her phone, her voice harsh, “Where is that ambulance? His hand…it’s…” She wasn’t entirely sure what to say at that point. It barely looked like a hand. It had been beaten bloody, and she doubted any bones were left unbroken. 

“The ambulance is just around the corner, miss. It should be there in under two minutes. Is everything alright?”

“Yes, the attackers have been incapacitated. I have the weapon they were using. The situation should be under control until help arrives.” She tried to keep her voice calm and business-like as she knelt down beside Jaime on the ground. “I need to check on my friend; I’m going to put the phone down now.” She touched two fingers to the pulse point on his neck, and was relieved to find a weak but rapid pulse. 

“Jaime? Jaime, I need you to look at me, I need you to open your eyes. Can you hear me?”

She watched as his eyelashes fluttered and lips tried to move. “Brie—?”

“Yes, it’s me. It’s Brienne. I’m here.” She brushed her thumb along his jawline, keeping her hand against his neck, comforted by the feel of his pulse fluttering against her palm. “The police are on their way, and the ambulance. It’s going to be ok." There was blood running from a small cut on his forehead, trickling down into his hair. "I promise, it’s all going to be ok.” She ignored the tightening in her throat. His eyelids started to flutter closed, and her chest constricted in panic. “But I need you to stay awake for me, can you do that? I need you to stay awake, Jaime.” 

She heard the siren echoing through the parking structure and stood to flag down the ambulance as it turned the corner. She realized with a flash of embarrassment that she was waving them down with the crowbar, and that at some point she had managed to get a decent amount of blood on her once crisp white shirt. The police car pulled up on the other side, and she ran over — in a hurry to explain that she was not the bad guy here, despite holding the weapon, which she now desperately wanted to get rid of. The officers strolled over to the men lying on the ground and handcuffed the ones she pointed to as perpetrators, before taking the crowbar from her and bagging it as evidence. The EMTs began to transfer Jaime to a gurney for transport to the hospital. She scooped her cell phone up off the ground, ending the call to 911. 

She turned to the officer closest to her. “Excuse me, officer? Is it alright if I go to the hospital with him? We’re friends.” I can’t leave him alone at a time like this.

The officer gave her a sympathetic look and nodded. “Sure thing. Let me take down your information for the detectives, and then you can go. Although you might want to put on some shoes first…” He raised an eyebrow at her bare feet.

Brienne could feel the blush creeping up her neck. “Right. I was trying to be quiet. My stuff is down at the end of the row, behind one of the cars. I’ll go—“

“No. You stay here, I’ll grab your things. No point cutting up your feet any worse than they already are.”

 

She climbed into the ambulance behind the EMTs and the officer handed up her bag and her shoes. “I’m Officer Tarly. I put my card in your bag already, so just give me a call if you need anything.”

“Thank you.”

He gave her a rueful smile. “What for? You did all the hard work before we even got here.” And with that, he shut the back door of the ambulance and gave it a hard smack, signaling the driver to leave. Sirens blaring in her ears, holding Jaime’s untouched left hand in hers, Brienne prayed to the old gods and the new like she had not done for a long time.

 

 

Brienne managed to keep her hold on Jaime’s left hand all through the ambulance ride. The paramedics had encouraged her to keep talking to him, to help keep him conscious. She talked about nothing and everything: what Tarth was like, her father. The time that Margaery and Renly had drunkenly talked her into a swim in Blackwater Bay in the middle of winter. Anything she could think of, anything that popped into her head. Jaime’s only response was to occasionally squeeze her hand.

They pulled her away from him once they were inside the hospital, a nurse demanding that he go into the operating room immediately, that he needed to be prepped for surgery. Brienne rummaged his cell phone out of his pocket before they could wheel him away. Someone came over and directed her to a waiting room, taking down her name and his. Brienne grabbed for their arm as they started to walk away. “Can I use my cell phone in here?” They simply nodded and kept walking. 

She called Catelyn first. Catelyn, who was no doubt wondering why the author of the hour had failed to appear at his own book launch, who was probably dealing with a room full of anxious and annoyed people wondering where the golden boy was that they had all been promised. Brienne explained as quickly as she could, begged off saying more until she could call Jaime’s brother, and promised to text Catelyn with news as soon as she had any.

She called Tyrion from Jaime’s phone, praying he would pick up, praying she wouldn’t have to talk to Cersei at a time like this.

“Hello?”

“Tyrion, it’s Brienne. There’s been an accident. Well, not really an accident, it was intentional, but Jaime’s in the hospital and he’s been hurt—“

“Would you slow down, woman?! I can barely understand you. Jaime’s in the hospital?”

“Yes. They just took him into surgery.”

“Surgery.” She heard Tyrion exhale heavily into the receiver, sending a crackling noise across the line. “Why does Jaime need surgery?”

“They beat him. His hand-- there was so much blood…”

“Ok, Brienne, listen to me. Where are you? I’m on my way right now.”

 

 

 

Tyrion appeared half an hour later, escorted by a nurse and a brawny man who seemed to be a cross between Tyrion’s personal assistant, driver, and bodyguard. He gruffly introduced himself as Bronn before settling into a chair in the corner of the waiting room that allowed him a good view of passersby and his employer, who was climbing into the seat across from Brienne. Tyrion looked her over, eyes lingering on the blood splatter dotting her white button-down shirt.

“Is that— the blood, I mean…”

She looked down, surprised to see it was still there. She had nearly forgotten about it. “No. No, it’s the others’ I think. Not Jaime’s.” She didn’t bother to mention that the invisible swipe of blood across the thigh of her black pants was definitely Jaime’s.

Tyrion looked confused. Brienne couldn’t blame him. She forced herself to focus, to snap out of whatever fugue state she had slipped into, and told him everything that had happened until she arrived at the hospital.

Tyrion’s mouth was hanging open by the time she was done. “You took on three men with nothing but a can of pepper spray. In your bare feet.” Brienne nodded. “You’re like the literary world’s Lara Croft. That is insane.” 

Brienne felt a rush of heat to her face, embarrassed by his praise. “I did what I had to do. Anyone would have—“

“No. No, a normal person would have stayed behind those cars until help arrived. You are something else. You are Jaime’s personal knight in shining armor.”

Brienne tried to change the subject. “Have you called your father yet? Or your sister?”

“Not yet. Figured I should determine exactly what had happened before ‘wasting their time’ with a family emergency. I’ll be right back.” 

Tyrion walked over to a quiet corner of the waiting room and made his calls while Brienne fidgeted in her seat and wondered if she should go wash the blood off her hands. She flagged down a passing nurse, who walked her to the nearest bathroom. After she had scrubbed her hands with soap for the third time she chanced a look in the mirror, horrified to see droplets of blood splattered in an arc across her face in addition to the ones criss-crossing her torso. She wet a paper towel and began scrubbing furiously at the violent red dots couched amongst her freckles, nearly rubbing her skin raw before she managed to calm herself down. She was just worried about Jaime. Worried how badly he had been injured before she got to him. She dried off her face and walked back out to Tyrion, who had finished with his phone calls.

 

“Apparently, Father would like me to inform him when Jaime is actually ready for visitors, as it would be pointless for him to be here now. Cersei simply asked if it was actually life-threatening. When I told her I didn’t think so, she said to tell Jaime to call her when he got the chance.”

It was Brienne’s turn to be slack-jawed. “He was just attacked and rushed to the hospital. What do you mean they’re not coming?”

Tyrion let out a bitter laugh. “We are Lannisters, my dear. One cannot expect us to be moved by such petty things as sentiment when there is a business to run. They will come to him when it is convenient for them, not before.”

“And you? You’re a Lannister just as much as the rest of them. And yet, here you are.”

“Jaime…Jaime looked out for me, growing up, in a way that no one else did. He took care of me, protected me. I owe him. I love my brother, more than anyone else in my family, because he was the only one who was ever truly kind to me.” 

Brienne could imagine that growing up a dwarf in a family largely blessed by physical perfection and cursed with a certain degree of notoriety had not made Tyrion’s childhood easy. But she had always assumed that the cruelty and rejection had come from outside his own family. “I can’t imagine needing someone to protect me from my own family. It was just Dad and me, for a long time, but we were always close. He always made me feel safe.”

“And Jaime made me feel safe, for as long as he could before he was shipped off to boarding school at Crakehall. I followed not long after. Father never could forgive me for being born a dwarf, so he got rid of me as early as possible.”

Brienne wasn’t really sure what she was supposed to say to that, so the two of them lapsed into grim silence as they waited for news.

 

 

 

Two more hours passed before a nurse came out with an update on Jaime’s condition.

“Friends and family of Jaime Lannister?”

Tyrion gave a little wave and the nurse came over to stand near them. “Mr. Lannister is out of surgery. He’ll be kept under sedation until at least noon tomorrow, so you two might as well go home until then. His surgery went well— they were able to save most of his hand. It’s still bandaged pretty heavily, and he will need physical therapy—”

Tyrion cut in, “What do you mean you were able to save most of his hand?”

“Unfortunately, two of Mr. Lannister’s fingers were too badly damaged to be saved. The others we were able to reinforce with pins, but his pinky and ring finger had to be amputated.”

 

Brienne put her head in her hands. Amputated. She should have gotten there sooner, if she had just reacted a little bit faster…

“The surgeon wanted me to let you know that he was quite lucky, all things considered. Any more damage and he likely would have lost his entire hand to the wrist.” Brienne felt the nurse’s hand on her shoulder. “He was very fortunate you were there. I know it sounds bad, but with therapy he should be completely functional. The first three digits are the most important for day to day activities.” Brienne could tell the nurse was trying to be comforting, so she managed a weak smile and nod in her direction. “Mr. Lannister will be allowed to see visitors beginning tomorrow afternoon. He’ll need to stay in the hospital for observation for another couple of days to make sure his recovery is off to a good start and there is no infection. You two should go home and get some rest. Come back tomorrow.”

Tyrion stood and glanced at the nurse's name tag. “Thank you, Gilly.” The nurse left and Tyrion walked over to Brienne. “She’s right. You need to get cleaned up. And don’t you have a cat to take care of? I’m sure it would be terribly offended if you missed its dinner time.” 

Brienne managed a shaky smile at that. “Yes, Evie. And Margaery already told me she would pick me up when I was ready to leave. She’s been texting me this whole time. Yelling at me for making her worry.”

“It’s good that you have someone to take care of you. You’ve had a hard day. If you’d like I can pick you up on my way to the hospital tomorrow.”

“Are you sure? I mean, you’re his family, I don’t want to intrude—“

“Brienne, I’m going to rephrase that. I am coming to pick you up tomorrow at 3 pm to come to the hospital and visit Jaime with me, because I like you and I’m sure he will want to see you. And that’s final.”

 

 

Margaery allowed Brienne only enough time to feed Evie before shoving her into the bathroom and telling her to take a long shower. Brienne didn’t have enough energy left in her to fight. As the water sluiced over her skin, she folded down the last two fingers of her right hand, trying to imagine what it would be like for Jamie without them: how hard was it to open a bottle of shampoo, to rub it into your scalp? She realized rather quickly that it would be incredibly difficult for her to shave her legs like that, but maybe it would easier for him to shave his face with an electric razor. By the time she stepped out of the shower her skin was red from the heat and from being scrubbed raw with a loofah, but she felt better. She examined the blooming bruise on her hip, prodding it gingerly, and put Neosporin over the small scrape on her shin. Margaery had already set her favorite flannel robe out on the bed, so Brienne slipped it on over a tank top and a pair of pajama shorts, tying the belt securely around her waist, again without the last two fingers of her right hand. A little clumsy, but not terrible. It’s going to be ok. He’s going to be ok. 

 

As soon as she emerged from the bedroom, Margaery steered her to sit on the couch and put a mug of tea in her hand. “I ordered some pizza while you were in the shower, it should be here soon. When’s the last time you ate?”

“Breakfast, I think. I had a bagel.”

“Glad I ordered two large pizzas then, you should be hungry.” At Brienne’s noncommittal shrug, she continued, “Well, I’m going to make sure you eat regardless. I’m not going to let you punish yourself because you think you somehow could have saved him if only your car hadn’t hit that one red light, or you had been faster. Because it’s nonsense. You saved him when no one else was there. You— You could have been killed. Do you have any idea how scared I was when the news announced that Jaime Lannister had been attacked and that you had been taken to the hospital with him?” Margaery bent down to give her a fierce hug. 

“I’m sorry.” Brienne mumbled into Margaery’s hair. She knew Margaery’s anger stemmed from fear and love. She knew she would have reacted the same way if the tables had been turned.

Margaery leaned back to look at her. “I know you are, darling. And I couldn’t really have expected you to do anything different. I love you, in all your stubborn, brave glory. And I’m glad you’re alright. As is Loras. You’re quite lucky I persuaded Olenna that it would be best for you to come home, she was practically demanding you stay at the house with her tonight.”

Brienne smiled, a real smile, for the first time in what felt like days. “I can only imagine what Olenna would have done. First, I would have been examined by her private physician, to make sure I wasn’t injured in the slightest.” 

“Oh, yes. No doubt.”

“Forced to soak in a tub for at least an hour. Then…do you think I would get a massage before or after dinner?”

“Definitely after. She would have had chicken soup delivered from the deli, and your favorite cookies from the bakery down the street.”

“And she would have watched me like a hawk until I finished every last bit of it.”

“Mmmm. Then the massage. Then she probably would have tucked you into bed and read you something soothing. Romantic poetry, probably.”

“And she wouldn’t let me out of bed until at least noon the next day.”

“Well of course, darling. You know grandmother would insist on serving you breakfast in bed.”

Brienne let out an amused groan. “You’d think I was the one who had been attacked. I’m fine.” The doorbell rang, and Margaery brought the pizza in and set it on the coffee table. 

“Now then. I may not be Olenna, but I am going to watch you like a hawk until you eat three slices of pizza. At least.”

“Seriously?!”

“Yes. Because I love you.”

Chapter Text

Brienne was padding around her apartment, restlessly waiting for Tyrion to pick her up and visit Jaime when she heard a chime from her computer. 

Ellaria: YOU.

Brienne: Me?

Ellaria: I don’t even know where to start with you right now.

Ellaria: Are you alright? Are you hurt?

Brienne: Just a bruise and a scrape. I’m fine.

Ellaria: WHAT WERE YOU THINKING

Brienne: I’m gonna be honest and admit that I wasn’t really thinking much.

Ellaria: I DON’T CARE HOW HOT HE IS OR HOW INTELLECTUALLY STIMULATING HIS CONVERSATIONS ARE YOU DO NOT EVER DO THAT AGAIN

Brienne: Yes, mom.

Ellaria: I’ll admit that— knowing you survive the whole thing— the video is pretty hot.

Brienne: What video?

Ellaria: The security tape from the parking garage. It’s all over the news. Are you living under a rock?

Brienne: Oh gods.

Ellaria: The 911 recording was released too.

Ellaria: Also Varys on Good Morning Westeros is championing the theory that you two are secretly lovers. 

Ellaria: Taena Merryweather— that vapid bitch on Westeros Today— thinks that you just have some kind of tragic unrequited love for him. But she’s a moron. Yesterday she encouraged people not to vaccinate their children right before a segment on the benefits of Botox.

Brienne: This is getting out of hand.

Ellaria: I know that pun was unintentional but you should probably watch yourself around Jaime. Speaking of, how is he? They just said he’s no longer in critical condition.

Brienne: They had to amputate two of his fingers on his right hand.

Ellaria: Fuck.

Brienne: Exactly.

 

Tyrion showed up an hour later, as promised, at Brienne’s apartment to take her to the hospital to visit Jaime. There was a flock of photographers and reporters outside her building, and both of them weathered the flashbulbs with as much grace as they could muster, muttering ‘no comment’ over and over. But when he tried to drag her into the hospital room with him she stood her ground. 

“No, Tyrion. You are family, you should visit with him first. If he’s up for it, I’ll visit when you’re done.”

“And I am telling you, you are being ridiculous. There is absolutely no reason that you can’t come in with me.”

Brienne crossed her arms. Was argumentativeness a Lannister family trait? “Well then, I guess it’s a good thing I’m way too big for you to force me in there, isn’t it?”

Tyrion rolled his eyes at her and walked in. She leaned against the wall in the hallway to wait.

 

Tyrion came back out a mere five minutes later, looking exhausted and frustrated. Brienne straightened and asked him if everything was ok.

“He’s being an idiot. Apparently our sweet sister visited earlier and it didn’t go well. He appears to be pouting. Or wallowing in his own misery.” Tyrion shook his head and looked up at her. “Maybe you can knock him out of it— not literally, of course, he is still in a hospital bed. But he always said you never took his shit. And you are basically Cersei’s kryptonite.”

Brienne wasn’t certain she knew what was going on, and she was also pretty sure that she took a lot of shit from Jaime, otherwise she wouldn’t have been at the book launch in the first place. She shuddered at the thought. “I can try?”

Tyrion shrugged. “That’s really all I can ask for at this point.”

She walked into the hospital room and closed the door behind her gently. Jaime was sitting up in bed, although just barely, and she could understand why Tyrion had described him as wallowing. The lights were off and the blinds almost completely closed.

“Are you planning to hold a seance in here or are you just trying to get your beauty sleep?” His only response was annoyed grunt. She muttered, “Yeah, this is ridiculous” and flipped on the lights, hoping that if nothing else it would get him to say something. She hadn’t heard his voice since his weak attempt at her name in the parking garage, and the strangled sound had fueled her nightmares.

“Seriously, wench? Has no one ever told you that it’s rude to ignore the wishes of an invalid?”

There he is. “Invalid?”

“Yes. Apparently, I am an invalid now, and a cripple. I am a broken man. I am less than a man.”

“Because you lost two fingers?”

“Yes, wench. Way to rub salt in the wound.”

Brienne sat down in the chair next to his bed and looked him in the eyes. Bitterness, a little bit of anger. She could probably work with that. At least he was feeling something. “So you’re just going to pout in your room in the dark because you lost two fingers. You could have easily lost your entire hand. You could have died, actually, if they had bothered to hit you anywhere else. And you’re going to sit here and act like you’ve got nothing left?”

“It’s not that simple, wench.”

“It could be. Did you know, I spent all last night and all this morning trying to do everything without those two fingers? Took a shower, got dressed, ate dinner and breakfast, washed the dishes, typed an email to Ellaria. And I did it all. I dropped the plates in the sink a couple of times, and it took me a few tries to tie my shoelaces, but all in all— not that bad. If you follow through with physical therapy—”

His voice was rough as sandpaper, “Don’t pretend you know what this is like. Don’t you dare.”

“At least I’m trying. Did you even think about your brother? The one who dropped everything yesterday to come to the hospital the second I called him when the rest of your family couldn’t be bothered to show up? He has spent his entire life— over thirty years— living in a world that is designed to work against him. Every pair of pants he tries on, every car he wants to drive, every fucking chair he wants to sit in— is designed not to work for him. And somehow he manages to wake up everyday and get on with his life in spite of the fact that fate dealt him a bad hand.” She saw Jaime start to interject and raised a hand to stop him. “No. I’m not done yet. Even without those two fingers you still have more advantages than most people in this world. You are a best-selling novelist, who is independently wealthy, and also comes from a prominent family. You are handsome and intelligent and well-spoken, and people fall at their feet to impress you and none of that changed in that parking lot. You still have all of those things. And if you are going to sit here and act like your life is over, then you let those animals win.”

Jaime looked taken aback at the vehemence in her voice, which was dangerously soft. Brienne had never been much for shouting.

She lowered her voice to something slightly less menacing than a growl. “I’ll visit again tomorrow, but so help me, Jaime, if you are still acting like this I will not come back. I did not take on three thugs in a parking lot so you could wallow in self-pity because you aren’t perfect anymore. I did it so you could live.

She rummaged through her bag and placed Jaime’s cell phone and Bart the Bear on the side table a little more forcefully than was strictly necessary. And with that, Brienne walked out and didn’t look back.

 

 

True to her word, Brienne arrived at the hospital the next day. She was relieved to see that Jaime had the lights on and the blinds open and was sitting straight up in bed, playing clumsily with his cell phone.

She leaned against the doorframe. “Well, you certainly look better today.”

Jaime looked up with a sheepish grin. “Still down two fingers, of course. But…you were right.”

“Much as it pains you to admit it?”

“Much as it pains me to admit it.” He motioned to the chair next to his bed. “Sit down. I feel like I should explain. Although you’ll probably still think I was being ridiculous, but— anyway. Cersei came to visit yesterday, before you and Tyrion got here, and I suppose no one told her about—“ Jaime waved his heavily bandaged right hand in the air, a just-noticeable void where his fingers should have been.

“No. When Tyrion called yesterday she asked if…well, she asked if it was life-threatening, and when Tyrion said ‘no’, she said she would just wait. And I suppose Tyrion was annoyed enough that he didn’t bother updating her when the doctor told us a few hours later about your hand.”

“Yes, that was fairly obvious. She was all ‘oh dear brother, I am so glad you’re alright and those terrible men were arrested’— right up until she saw my hand. At which point she recoiled and demanded to know what the hell ‘that’ was. She didn’t respond terribly well when I explained that it was the remains of my right hand.”

“I am assuming that the key words were invalid and cripple?”

“She did also inform me that I was now less than a man because I needed you to save me. Always the charmer, Cersei.”

“She actually said all of those things to you? Out loud? With you lying in a hospital bed?”

Jaime merely raised an eyebrow at her. 

“Okay, I realize your sister isn’t always…polite to people who she feels superior towards, but she was usually pretty nice to you.

“But now she is superior to me, wench. Because she is still her whole, perfect self, and I am missing a few pieces.”

“But she’s your sister—” Brienne was about to continue along the lines of ‘shouldn’t she love you anyway, even if you’re not perfect, that’s what families do’, when she remembered everything she had learned about Lannister family dynamics and shook her head.You know what, no. I am just going to stop assuming that normal human emotional reactions apply to the Lannister family whatsoever. Of course she would react that way. Is Tyrion the only emotionally functional Lannister or are there a few hidden in the more distant branches of your family tree?”

There was a familiar teasing spark back in Jaime’s eyes. “Are you implying that I am not emotionally functional?”

Brienne merely arched an eyebrow and mouthed ‘Cersei?’

“Okay, wench, I suppose you do have me there.”

 

 

 

When her phone rang a few hours later, she was surprised to hear Jaime’s voice on the other end of the line.

“I’ve been away for like three hours, you can’t go that long without me?”

There was a long pause on the other end of the line. “I realized that I haven’t actually thanked you yet. For saving me. And that probably seemed incredibly rude, but I actually…well I couldn’t remember much of it, and I didn’t even know you were there until you were kneeling next to me. So I didn’t realize what you…They played the security footage from the parking lot on the news, and you…”

It was hard for her to hear him struggling for words that normally flowed so easily from his lips. “It’s alright, Jaime. I get it.”

She could hear his frustration, picture him waving his arms around as he talked, “No, it’s not. Don’t make excuses for me when I don’t even deserve them. You could have been seriously hurt. It’s frankly a miracle that you weren’t. Are you secretly some kind of ninja assassin?”

“No, I’m just remarkably good at swinging things. All that pent up rage and frustration finally came in handy, I guess.”

“Stop. Stop acting like it doesn’t matter. No one else would have done that for me. And I realize that, even if you don’t. So thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Just try not to make it a habit, okay?”

She heard a faint chuckle from the other end. “You got it. Good night, Brienne.”

“Good night, Jaime.”

 

Chapter Text

Brienne could tell something was wrong as she approached the nurses’ station on Jaime’s floor. Gilly caught her eye and motioned her over, eyes frantic. “Brienne! Mr. Lannister was just asking to speak to his son’s surgeon, but I told him that Dr. Qyburn started an emergency surgery a few minutes ago and wouldn’t be available for several hours…”

Brienne could tell from both parties’ respective body language that the encounter hadn’t been nearly so civil as all that.

Tywin Lannister loomed over the desk. “Do you have any idea who I am?…”

Brienne swooped in, “Gilly. Was there anyone who assisted on Jaime’s surgery who might be available to speak with Mr. Lannister sooner?”

The nurse furrowed her brows for a moment as she studied the open file on the desk in front of her. “Oh! One of the residents assisted Dr. Qyburn, and he’s normally on rotation today. I’ll try to page him.”

Brienne could feel Tywin Lannister staring at her, so she squared her shoulders and turned to face him fully. She held out her hand. “Brienne Tarth, sir. Sorry we couldn’t meet under better circumstances.”

He took her hand and gave it a firm shake that felt like he was testing her grip, examining her with sharp eyes. “So you’re the one I have to thank for the fact that my son still has a hand.”

“I rather think the doctors deserve the credit for that, sir.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Still, it seems my family owes you a debt.”

Brienne fought to contain a groan. Lannisters and debts, could this be more cliche?  “I assure you, sir, there is no debt.” At his look of disbelief, she continued, “Look, I didn’t interfere in that parking garage because he’s a Lannister. I did it because he’s Jaime. Your family owes me nothing.”

He was still studying her carefully, more bird of prey than lion. “Surely there must be something you want.” 

She bit her lip to keep from making a sarcastic answer, like world peace or a pet dragon. “I wanted Jaime to live. He’s alive. So if it makes you feel better, you can consider the debt paid.”

He gave her a slight nod. Was that dismissal or respect?  “You are Jaime’s new editor at Winterfell?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And the one who embarrassed my daughter at the Tyrell’s benefit not too long ago.”

Brienne noticed that it wasn’t a question, but she felt she should acknowledge the truth of it somehow. “Yes, sir.”

One eyebrow rose, infinitesimally. “She was fuming about that for over a week. Impressive.”

Brienne was, at this point, genuinely confused. “Impressive? Sir.”

He nodded. “Cersei has begun to overestimate herself and she's grown far too impulsive. For someone so entranced by power, she fails to fully understand how it works, or how to predict the consequences of her actions. But it’s rare to find someone willing to stand up to her. Even rarer for someone to actually succeed.” He spoke in a voice so cool and detached he could have been talking about some faceless employee, and not his own daughter.

 

Gilly spoke up from behind the desk, “Mr. Lannister? The resident I mentioned is finishing checking on another patient, but I can send him to your son’s room as soon as he’s finished. Shouldn’t be long at all, if you’d like to wait for him there.”

He gave Gilly a cursory nod, all cold elegance. “Very well. Miss Tarth, if you’d accompany me.” He motioned towards Jaime’s room with a sweep of his arm. Brienne didn’t really want to have a dual visit with Jaime’s somewhat notorious father, but his tone brooked no argument. She walked the increasingly familiar path to Jaime’s room, trying to ignore the feeling of his father’s eyes boring into her back. She had dealt with men like Tywin Lannister before, the military men who came to visit her father on Tarth. If firm handshakes, direct eye contact, perfect posture, and a million yes-sirs had gotten her through every meeting with them, it would work on him too. 

“Tarth.” He rolled her last name around on his tongue, like it had a taste that would tell him what to make of her. “Your last name is familiar. Your father, perhaps?”

“My father is a two-star general: Major General Selwyn Tarth. He retired when I was still quite young, though. He’s in charge of Evenfall Ranch now.”

He opened the door to Jaime’s room and motioned for her to enter ahead of him. She watched as Jaime’s smile morphed into confusion as his father walked in behind her. “I ran into your father at the nurses’ station when I went to check-in with Gilly.” And now Jaime just looked concerned. When will you learn I can take care of myself?  She waited a moment, expecting Tywin to say something, but watched as he simply settled into the chair by the door, as though waiting to see what she would do. She turned back to Jaime, figuring she might as well do what she came there for.

“I have a present for you.” She pulled the book out of her bag. “Jaqen heard about what happened on the news, so he sent advanced copies of his book to each of us. It’s even signed.” She handed it over to him, opening the front cover so he could see Jaqen’s scrawl all over the title page.

“Gods, Brienne, that’s a little more than signed. How did you pull this off? He’s one of the top mystery writers…” His eyes widened as he looked at the typed dedication on the opposite page— her name was printed less than a dozen lines in. “You’re his editor too? How exactly did a junior editor end up with half of Selmy’s client list?”

Brienne allowed herself a small smile. “Because I’m good at what I do. And he requested me after we met at the Gala last year. He thought my familiarity with the Westerosi military and its history might come in handy.”

Jaime raised an eyebrow at her. “And Ellaria Sand?”

She sat on the edge of his bed. “Apparently her last editor made some…insensitive comments about the Dornish. Ellaria put in a request for a new editor, Catelyn thought we’d make a good match. And we both know how I got saddled with you.”

They were both grinning widely at one another when the resident entered. To Brienne’s surprise, Tywin asked to speak with the man out in the hallway, saying it would give Jaime and Brienne time to talk in private. His tone lowered considerably on the last word, imbuing it with ambiguous significance.

“My father does have a talent for making everything sound ominous, doesn’t he?”

Brienne nodded in agreement. “Have they said when you can leave yet?”

“One more full day in here, then I can check out at noon the day after tomorrow. Get back to harassing people on the outside.” He sent a lopsided grin her way.

Brienne rolled her eyes. “Can’t wait. I’ve really missed you trying to Skype me at midnight because you’re having trouble with the phrasing of the third sentence of the second paragraph in chapter nine.”

“Well I’ve missed being able to make fun of your pajamas. Especially the ones with the little bunnies on them.” He didn’t quite manage to sound like he was joking. Brienne tried not to admit to herself that she missed his late night calls, even when (especially when) he made fun of her pajamas. She didn’t like to think about how Jaime Lannister had managed to take over such a large chunk of her life without her even realizing.

 

“How’s the hand? And don’t say ‘still attached’, that got old after the first time you said it.”

His gaze shifted to the bandages still covering the end of his right arm. He sent her a weak smirk. “But that means I’d have to be honest.”

“I’m a big girl, Jaime. I can take the truth. I prefer it, to be honest.”

“Honestly? It hurts like a bitch, but they’re still giving me pretty good pain meds. But now every time I go to press that little button for the IV drip I wonder if I’m going to get addicted. And sometimes…” His face tightened into a grimace.

She murmured softly, urging him to continue, “And sometimes?”

He leaned his head back against the pillow and closed his eyes. “Sometimes I dream that it never happened. That I’m whole. And then I wake up…”

She could feel her throat tightening. “After…the accident…I used to dream about the whole family sitting down to breakfast together. Not like a holiday, or anything. Just normal, everyone with their cereal or toast. Galladon complaining about a math test. Alysanne trying to sneak her toast crusts to one of the dogs, and Mom yelling at her without really meaning it. And then I would wake up and I would forget for a few minutes that it wasn’t real…” Jaime took her hand in his one good one and squeezed. She took a deep breath and continued, “It’s going to be hard, moving forward. But you’re going to be okay. You don’t have to do it alone.”

After a few moments, Jaime spoke up, “Was my dad…I mean, I know he can be…a lot to deal with…”

Brienne shook her head and tucked a loose piece of hair behind her ear. “No, not at all. I mean, he’s certainly intense, but he was polite to me. Gilly didn’t fare quite as well.”

Jaime eyed her in disbelief. “Polite?”

“Yeah. I mean, he pulled the whole ‘Lannisters pay their debts’ thing. And apparently he was impressed that I embarrassed your sister in front of hundreds of people, which was definitely surprising.”

“I’m sorry, are we talking about Tywin Lannister? CEO, force of nature, distant yet controlling father?”

“The very same.”

Jaime ran a hand through his already rumpled hair. How does he look this good right now? Stupid Lannister genes. “Look, Brienne, it’s not that I’m not relieved that my father didn’t attempt to eat your liver for breakfast, but the man is not pleasant to people unless he has a reason.”

“And right now neither of us know the reason. Is that what has you so freaked out?”

“I am not freaked out! I am…concerned.”

Brienne put on a hand on his shoulder and stood up. “I appreciate your concern. But I took care of myself just fine for 25 years before I met you, and I can handle your father.”

Brienne picked up the book from where it lay forgotten on the bed and set it underneath Bart the Bear on Jaime's side table. She chewed her lower lip, wondering if she should even bring up the news reports that had been circling, if he needed to know before he was released. 

Jaime narrowed his eyes. “You’re nervous. You only chew your lip like that when you’re nervous. What’s the matter?”

It was terribly inconvenient that he had grown so talented at reading her facial expressions. “Have you been watching the news much?” 

He shook his head. “No, the third time they started to play that security tape from the parking garage I turned off the TV. A man can only watch his own maiming so many times. Why?”

She settled back down on the edge of the bed. “There’s been a lot of speculation going around about what happened. Since the hospital didn’t release the extent of your injuries yet, some people are saying that the whole thing was just a publicity stunt for the book. But obviously that one won’t last long once you’ve been released…”

“Okay, so I don’t have to worry about that one. But there are others?”

Brienne couldn’t stop herself from chewing her lip. “Well, you know how there’s a sort of a trifecta for news stories? Money, violence…”

“And sex.” Jaime’s voice was flat, betraying no emotion.

“Right. They already had the first two, so they’ve been…extrapolating, I suppose, to try and get the third. First the tabloids decided that I was harboring some deep, unrequited love for you, then we were secretly dating— but then after they got footage of your brother taking me to the hospital with him the dating theory picked up steam-”

“Wait. How did they get footage of Tyrion bringing you here?”

She was caught off guard by the question. Really, Jaime? That’s the part you find surprising? “There have been photographers and reporters outside my apartment since the night of the accident. Trying to get new pictures or a sound byte. Olenna finally put her foot down and insisted that I stay with her yesterday morning, and they haven’t found me yet.”

Jaime looked furious. “Why hasn’t anyone told me about this? It’s so bad that you’re hiding out at the Tyrell townhouse and you’re just now telling me?”

Brienne threw up her hands. “I thought it was going to blow over. A few people started saying that the rumors couldn’t be true because you were out of my league and I thought that would catch on since it makes the most sense, and that then everyone would leave the whole thing alone. Find a new scandal to cover.”

Jaime scoffed. “They think I’m too good for you? Clearly they know nothing.”

Brienne looked up in surprise and was about to ask what exactly that was supposed to mean when Tywin Lannister made his grand re-entrance. Suddenly feeling like she was far out of her depth and in need of some air, Brienne made a few mumbled excuses and dashed out the door.

  

Only to be hailed by Tywin Lannister just outside the doors of the hospital, in full view of the paparazzi. “Miss Tarth!”

She sighed inwardly. So close to escaping. “Mr. Lannister. What can I do for you?”

He examined her closely, but she didn’t miss his eyes darting to take in the cameras flashing from the sidewalk. “You seem to be a perceptive young lady, Miss Tarth. I am going to assume that you are well aware of the rumors that normally surround my son when he finds himself in the eye of the press.”

Gay, possible secret sex club member. The Aerys Targaryen thing. Yup, we’ve already been through that. But there was a caginess to his voice that made her think he was referring to the real secret, the one that the press hadn’t yet caught wind of.

The one that Tywin Lannister no doubt wanted to ensure that the press never had reason to look for. She felt the corner of her mouth twitch up in a sardonic smile. “That’s what this is about, isn’t it? As long as the press is focused on what I am to Jaime Lannister, those other rumors— the more unsavory ones, by far— fall by the wayside. And just in case people were starting to lose interest in that angle you just gave them a money shot— aloof tycoon Tywin Lannister talks with son’s maybe-girlfriend outside of the hospital where he's being treated. That ought to fuel the tabloids for days. At least until Jaime is released, no doubt.”

He raised an eyebrow, looking…impressed?  “It would appear you’re even quicker than I guessed. But it might surprise you to learn that I actually think you're good for him— beyond rumor.” Her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. Mindful of the cameras, she schooled her face back into something more neutral. “You are smart, and clearly loyal to him. He listens to you, which is rare.” He paused, took a breath. “Whether your relationship with my son is romantic or not, as far as I am concerned, is beside the point--  because the Jaime that I found in that hospital room was not what I expected, and it is because of you, Miss Tarth. I don’t doubt that.”

She started to shake her head, wanted to argue, but couldn't seem to form words.

“And so I still owe you a debt, Miss Tarth, even if you will never be willing to collect on it.”

She felt as though her feet had melted into the pavement as he walked back into the hospital without another word.

Well, that was certainly unexpected.

 

 

 

Olenna cornered her at the breakfast table the next morning, dropping that day’s edition of the Post next to Brienne’s cereal bowl.

“It looks like you had an enlightening conversation with Tywin Lannister yesterday.”

 “I guess you could call it that.”

Brienne was grateful that they hadn’t managed to get —or at least didn’t print— a photo of her gaping at him like a fish. Instead she had a half-smile, one eyebrow raised. Tywin looked aloof, as always. She suspected the man was only capable of one facial expression and wondered briefly if he got botox injections.

Olenna sat down across from her. “Now they’re starting to wonder if there’s a chance you and Jaime are secretly married.” Brienne actually snorted her coffee up her nose in shock. Olenna politely pretended not to notice. “Apparently you two eloped to Sunspear weeks ago. You haven’t been holding out on me, have you dear?”

“Olenna we’re not even— oh my gods this is so horribly awkward.” Brienne dropped her head onto the table with a thunk.

“Well I don’t see why not. That boy is handsome. If I were a few decades younger…” Brienne looked up in surprise to see Olenna giving her a mischievous smile. “I would tap that like a maple tree.”

Brienne barked out a surprised laugh. “I always wondered where Marge got that expression from.”

“Oh, I taught her everything she knows. And don’t you forget it.”

Chapter Text

“Miss Tarth, thanks for stopping by.”

She was once again sitting down across from Detective Mormont at Kings Landing PD for an interview. “Anything I can do to help, Detective.”

“Like I said on the phone I just have a few more questions.” Mormont was probably in his fifties, but still built like a tank, and he reminded Brienne of her father. She waved at him to continue as she sat in the wobbly old folding chair across from him. 

He slid three mugshots across the desk. “We’ve identified the three men who attacked Mr. Lannister.” Brienne read the names printed along the bottom of the photos: Timeon, Zollo, and Hoat. “You’re certain you’ve never seen any of them before?”

“Positive. Their names don’t sound familiar either.”

Detective Mormont leaned back in his chair and studied her. “What exactly is your relationship with Mr. Lannister?” 

Brienne refrained from rolling her eyes at the poorly disguised real question behind Mormont’s polite inquiry: Are you sleeping with Mr. Lannister? Are the tabloid stories true? “I work for Winterfell Publishing. I was assigned to be Jaime’s editor about eight months ago. We’ve become friends since then.” A snide little voice in her head that sounded suspiciously like Marge popped up: Right, because people have erotic fever dreams about their platonic friends all the time. 

But Mormont simply nodded and made a note on the piece of paper in front of him. “Do you know if he is seeing anyone right now?”

Brienne was pretty sure these were the sorts of questions they should just be asking Jaime. “As far as I know, he is chronically single. Bachelorhood seems to agree with him.”

“So there’s no jealous ex or one-night-stand that might have wanted to hurt him?”

“Nope, none that I know of.” Bitter and jealous as Cersei might be, she would have never risked maiming Jaime to get him back in her bed.

“What about business rivals? Could someone have been trying to stop him from writing another book or hurt the release of this one?”

“I’m not saying the literary world isn’t without its rivalries and squabbles, Detective, but it doesn’t seem possible. First of all, I doubt that this incident will hurt book sales in any way— and before you ask, no it was not a publicity ploy either. And the fact is, even if Jaime’s right hand never recovered, he would still be able to write. Either by picking out keys with his left hand, or using dictation software, or even hiring someone to dictate the stories to— he has the money to pay for it, and Winterfell would likely cover some of the cost.”

“Miss Tarth, I am trying to understand why someone wanted to injure your friend, and I am having trouble coming up with anything that makes sense. Who would have a reason to hurt Mr. Lannister?”

Brienne sat back and stared at the stained ceiling tile above her head, thinking back to the early days of their acquaintance when she still called Jaime ‘Mr. Lannister’. ‘Mr. Lannister is my father— call me Jaime.’  Tywin Lannister certainly had enemies, but why would anyone pick Jaime as their target, when the other two children were the ones who actually worked in positions of power at Casterly? And why did they only hit Jaime’s right hand with the crow bar?

A first-born son is a father’s right hand. 

“What was that, Miss Tarth?” Mormont was looking at her expectantly. She hadn’t even realized she’d said the phrase aloud.

“A first-born son is a father’s right hand. It’s an old saying…”

A young officer who was walking by stopped next to the desk. “Oh, you talking about that new movie just come out? The special effects were right awful on that one, weren’t they?”

Brienne furrowed her brow in confusion. “What movie?”

“That new one that just came out last week or so— The Reign of Castamere, I think it is. They use that line in the movie. ‘A first-born son is a father’s right hand.’ That’s the threat they send to the mob boss.”

Mormont gestured him over. “What’s the movie about, Officer?”

He looked a bit uncomfortable, but leaned against the desk opposite Mormont’s. “Well there’s this mob boss, head of the Castamere family, and these small-time thugs decide they’re going to get back at him for some bad business deal by kidnapping his son. They cut off the son’s hand and send that ransom note to the guy. And there’s the usual threat, you know, like ‘we’ll cut off an additional body part for every hour you’re late with the money’. And they end up using the money drop as an opportunity to assassinate the boss and end up taking over the whole enterprise themselves. Totally far-fetched if you ask me.”

“Thank you, Lommy. You may go.” The officer strode away after Mormont’s dismissal.

Brienne furrowed her brows. “Do you think it’s possible? They took the plot out of some movie and thought they could extort money from Tywin Lannister by sending him his son’s hand?”

Mormont sighed. “You work this job long enough, you learn that anything is possible. You ever meet Tywin Lannister?”

“Briefly, when I went to visit Jaime in the hospital. Why?”

“Does he fit with the character in the movie?”

“He certainly has money, and he’s the CEO of a massive corporation. He isn’t the most loving father, but I doubt he’d take kindly to his son being ransomed. But he isn’t a mob boss, there’s no reason he wouldn’t go to the cops for help. And I don’t see how they thought they were going to send Jaime’s hand to him when all they had was a crow bar to get it detached.” She tamped down on the nausea rising in her gut at a mental image of Jaime’s half-severed hand.

Mormont looked down at the mug shots lying on his desk. “They were intoxicated when we brought them in. I doubt this bunch would have thought very far ahead. Maybe a crow bar was all they had. Maybe they saw an article about the Lannisters in the paper or it was just the first name that popped into their heads. Course, it could be they’re a lot smarter than I’ve given them credit for.” He gave the pictures one last look before shuffling them into a folder. “I’ll let you know if it pans out. Thanks for your help, Miss Tarth.”

Chapter Text

Jaime was released from the hospital after four long days. His right hand was still so heavily bandaged as to be unusable, and he was forbidden to get it wet. But he had a decent supply of painkillers and Tyrion had offered to stay with him for a few days to help out. Once upon a time, Jaime would have dreamed of Cersei being there, nursing him back to health with kisses and soft touches, but all he could see now was her look of revulsion in the hospital. Cersei had never been the woman he had dreamed her to be. It had just taken him an embarrassingly long time to come to terms with it.

All was going perfectly well until it came time for Jaime to take his first shower. Tyrion had helped him wrap his right arm nearly to the elbow in a garbage bag, taped so firmly that Jaime feared he may never get it off, but he quickly realized that he could barely open anything one handed, let alone apply it, and his cracked ribs were still sore enough that he couldn’t lift his left arm over his head or bend over. After struggling on his own for five minutes he gave up. 

“TYRION!”

His brother trundled into the bathroom. “Yes, my lord?”

“I need help. I can’t open anything. And I can barely move without my ribs making me feel like I’m dying.”

“I can open whatever you like, brother, but I am still a dwarf. I can barely reach past your waist, so I doubt I’ll be much help with the rest of it.”

Jaime was desperate. He hadn’t showered in days. It wasn’t right. “What if I sat on a chair?”

Tyrion actually laughed at him. “Brother, you and I both know that you don’t possess any furniture that can go in the shower with you. Unless you’ve suddenly decided that you hate your excruciatingly expensive dining set and want to ruin those beautiful wooden chairs—“

“Okay! I get it.”

Tyrion waggled his eyebrows at him. “I believe we may need to call in your favorite leggy blonde.”

“Cersei? Are you out of your mind?”

“No, of course not. Our sweet sister would probably try to drown you to end the embarrassment of having two crippled brothers instead of one. I was referring to Brienne.”

Now it was Jaime’s turn to laugh. “Yes, very funny, Tyrion. Let’s call Brienne, my editor, someone I have to work with constantly, to come be my nurse. Let’s just have her get in the shower with me…” Jaime voice trailed off as he noticed his brother was not laughing with him. Tyrion had been making loaded quips about Brienne ever since her performance at the Tyrell benefit and they had only grown worse since the incident. And Jaime had to admit, he had very few people he could call for this, and she was by far the best suited in terms of sheer height. “Okay, fine. It makes some sense to call Brienne. But there’s no way she’s going to agree!”

Tyrion just gave him a mischievous grin and walked out of the bathroom, already pulling out his phone.

 

 

Brienne had just made it back to the women’s locker room at the gym when her phone started ringing from inside her locker. She cursed and turned the combination lock as quickly as she could without dropping her towel, barely managing to fish the damn thing out just before it switched over to voicemail.

“Hello?”

“Brienne! It’s Tyrion. I have a somewhat peculiar favor to ask you.”

Brienne sat down on the bench slowly. She already had a bad feeling about this. “What?”

“Well, Jaime still cannot use his right hand, and his ribs are dreadfully tender— poor thing can barely take care of himself, really I don’t understand why he insisted on leaving the hospital.”

There was something in his tone of voice that made Brienne nervous. He sounded awfully mischievous and downright happy at his brother’s inability to take care of himself. “And your point is?”

“He is attempting to take a shower, and needless to say he can’t do much more than stand under the shower head and turn around. I can only help so much, considering my dear brother has nearly two feet on me…We need help. Tall help.”

Brienne knew that for any Lannister to ask for help was a big deal, and to have two of them admit defeat was unheard of. Jaime admitting that he was— at least temporarily— an invalid had to have been difficult for him. She let out a resigned sigh. She couldn’t very well say no. “Alright. I just got out of the pool, so I’ll dry off and bring my suit with me. I’ll need to change back into it once I get there. But I should be there in less than thirty minutes.”

Thank you.”

“Tyrion, allow me to absolutely clear: if Jaime is not wearing swim trunks by the time I get there, you can figure out how to give him a sponge bath. Got it?”

“Swim trunks. On it.”

“I’ll see you soon.”

 

 

Brienne still smelled like chlorine when she walked into the lobby of Jaime’s building, feeling horribly out of place in her old sweats and damp hair. Fortunately the doorman recognized her (one of the few advantages of her irregular features) and told her to go straight up. Tyrion answered the door.

“Brienne, come on in. Although he was somewhat disappointed with your request, I did manage to get Jaime into a pair of swim trunks for you.”

Brienne fought the blush creeping up her neck. She was fairly certain that Tyrion was just messing with her at this point. Why on earth would Jaime want to be in the shower naked with her? “Well, that’s a good start.”

“Bathroom’s just over here. You can go ahead and change into your suit if you’d like. I’ll fetch Jaime. He’s pretending to take a nap.”

Brienne walked into a bathroom that was only slightly smaller than her bedroom and was not surprised to see that nearly everything was made of marble. Fortunately, Jaime’s shower was large enough that they could both fit in there comfortably. She wasn’t so sure what she would have done if it had been the size of her shower, which was so small they’d have to be completely pressed against one another in order to fit inside. Probably not the best mental image to have right now, Brienne. She tried to give herself a pep talk as she struggled back into her damp swimsuit.

You are here because he is injured and you are his friend. 

The only friend tall enough to wash his hair apparently. 

She hoped, somewhat uncharitably, that he would be covered in bruises so she could distract herself from whatever her traitorous body had started doing since she visualized the two of them, slippery with soap, pressed up against one another in her tiny shower.

Once she was dressed she turned on the water, puzzling through the foreign knobs until she was fairly certain it would eventually be spraying hot water, and opened the door. She could hear Tyrion talking in what sounded like a playful, teasing tone and Jaime moaning in what sounded like amused embarrassment. She did not want to know what they were saying.

“Hey Lannister, are you ready or what?”

Jaime’s voice responded, “Yes. Let’s get this over with, wench.”

 

Jaime was not surprised that the wench’s swimsuit was a solid navy blue, the kind of suit serious swimmers wore doing laps in a pool, rather than the sort of thing vapid women took on vacation— meant to be seen, but never wet. He was surprised by how blue it made her eyes look, the slight curve at her waist that was normally hidden by her clothing, and how utterly long and lean her legs were. Why the woman insisted on wearing pants most of the time he could not fathom. 

He led the way into the bathroom, checking that she had turned the shower on properly and that he wasn’t about to step into freezing cold temperatures. He glanced down and noticed that her toes were painted bright red. It seemed so unlike her that he almost asked about it, but worried that she might take it the wrong way, like he didn’t think she was pretty enough to wear red nail polish, and he really needed her to help him, so he kept his mouth shut. But he had to say something, because the situation was just so terribly awkward. “So. Tyrion said you were at the pool?” He could still smell the chlorine on her hair.

Brienne nodded. “Yeah, I try to go swimming a couple of times a week, especially when it’s too cold to go for a run. Do you want me to do your hair first, or the rest of you?” She gestured vaguely at his body.

He bit back the loaded remark on the tip of his tongue. As much as he loved to make her blush, now was not the time. “Hair last, I think. If you don’t mind.” He handed her his body wash. Some designer-cologne scented thing that Cersei had bought him ages ago for his nameday. He wondered if he should replace it. “I guess I always figured you as more of a kickboxing type. Beating men up at the gym, or punching bags when you had no worthy opponents.”

Brienne squeezed a decent amount of the body wash onto a loofah and started to lather it up. “Sorry to disappoint you.” She decided to start at his shoulders. Shoulders seemed safer than his chest. “I grew up on an island; spent most of my childhood in the water. Dad used to joke that I learned how to swim before I knew how to walk. So it’s hard sometimes, being in the city. The pool isn’t exactly the same as the ocean, but it helps.”

“With the homesickness?”

“Yeah.” She had already finished with his shoulders and started scrubbing down towards his chest. She forced her feet to stay planted a safe distance away from him. There was no need to be any closer than she already was. She spotted the bruises on his ribs, purple and blue and yellow in places, focused on those. “How bad is the pain in your ribs?”

“Eh, they’re pretty tender. It’s great practice for my posture, though, not being able to bend over or slouch. You should try it.”

She rolled her eyes. “Great idea, I’ll go find some friendly neighborhood thugs to break my ribs as soon as I leave for the sake of my posture.” Her eyes flickered back up to his for the briefest of moments. “I’ll try to be gentle.”

They fell into an awkward silence. Jaime piped up first, unsurprisingly. He needed something to focus on other than how truly gentle and thorough she being with that loofah. He was suddenly absurdly grateful that he had a loofah so she wasn’t doing this with her bare hands. “So, wench. What was your first job? Lifeguard? Waitress?”

She was grateful for the distraction as she moved on to cleaning his abs. They were well defined, even mottled by bruises, and she could see the trail of golden hair that ran from his belly button to disappear into his swim trunks. She swallowed. “Well, my dad runs a ranch where we breed horses, so I always helped out with that. But Tarth has a lot of tourists, especially during the summer months, so I used to take the older horses out and lead rides along the beach.”

“You used to ride horses on the beach and get paid for it?”

“Barely. It was my father’s side business, so most of the money just went into the general family accounts. And I would have to saddle the horses and clean them, feed them, check them for injuries before we went out.”

She was getting dangerously close to the waistband of his swim trunks and he could feel his traitorous cock starting to twitch. Fuck. Horses, focus on horses. “How many horses were you responsible for?”

“I don’t think I ever took a group of more than six people for a ride at once. It was usually just families, or couples. But there are at least fifteen horses on the ranch at any given time.”

“Why did you stay here in King’s Landing, then? I mean, it sounds like Tarth is beautiful, and you love it…”

Brienne took a moment before answering, pretending that she needed more soap on the loofah before she moved on to his legs. Despite the awkwardness of going to her knees in front of him she was grateful that she didn’t have to make eye contact. “Tarth is a small island. Everyone knows everything about everyone. And high school was…difficult for me. By the time senior year rolled around, I needed to get away. And my father understood that. And then, I landed the internship at Winterfell my sophomore year of college and loved it enough that I stayed on. Catelyn liked me, so she let me bounce around between departments, always asked me back at the end of every semester, kept me there full time over the summer. Eventually she made it clear to me that they would pay for me to get a Master’s degree if that was what I wanted, and that I was guaranteed a job at Winterfell either way when I graduated.” She moved on to Jaime’s other leg. “I try to visit Dad as much as I can, but he knows me well enough to know that I couldn’t have stayed on Tarth forever and been happy. And most of the time I can work from anywhere, so when I do visit it’s for weeks at a time.” She stood up to wash his back, grateful that the most awkward part of the experience was over. She was too distracted to notice that Jaime had kept his eyes closed and jaw clenched the entire time she had been on her knees.

“But if you can work from anywhere, why stay here? Why King’s Landing?”

“All my friends are here. The Tyrells practically adopted me after freshman year— Margaery and I somehow became inseparable. Olenna is pretty much the overprotective grandmother I never had. They’re like a second family to me. I know the entire Stark family, after working with Catelyn for so long and watching the kids. I don’t know, I guess after six years my roots are deep enough to keep me here.”

“How do you manage to get adopted by so many families? The Tyrells, the Starks. If it were up to Tyrion and me, no doubt you’d have been adopted by the Lannisters by now, as well. My own family doesn’t even want me half the time, and here you are with a bevy of fake relatives.”

As hard as he tried to sound lighthearted, Brienne heard the tension and hurt in his voice. My own family doesn’t even want me. She wondered if Tyrion felt the same way. “Well it isn’t my good looks, that’s for certain. And you are certainly more charming than I am, when you put your mind to it. Although I do think I win the prize for politeness.” She came back around to face him. “I’m fairly certain it has something to do with pity. I had no one, when I came here. Only a father back on Tarth.” She shrugged and met his gaze. “Nobody would assume that a Lannister needs adopting.” Another heavy pause. “So, which one of these many bottles is your shampoo? I swear you have more products in your shower than I do. I can’t believe you actually use them all.”

 

They were both standing in the bathroom toweling off when Brienne found the courage to speak up. “So, when do you want me to come back and do this again?”

His head snapped up. “What?”

“Well, you aren’t getting the bandages off for awhile, and your ribs will take some time to heal completely, which means that you probably won’t be able to shower by yourself next time either. Unless there’s someone else you’d—“ She hated how stumbling her words were, falling out of her mouth like stones.

“No! Right. You’re right. Um…I don’t want to make you do this every day. Day after tomorrow, I guess? If that’s alright with you, of course…”

“Yup, fine.” She refocused her attention on wringing the excess water out of her hair.

Chapter Text

Things were only marginally less awkward the third time Brienne had to help Jaime shower. They at least both knew what to expect this time, but Brienne hadn’t been able to find anything but her old racing suit, which was so high cut on the legs that she felt even more self-conscious than normal. It didn't help that the edge of the bruise on her hip was visible, mottled green and yellow against her pale skin. She pretended not to notice Jaime’s longer-than-normal glance and the tightening in his jaw when he spotted the bruise as they got into the shower.

He handed her a new bottle of body wash, the one she had used before mysteriously absent despite only being half-empty on her last visit. She stared at the bottle.

“Brienne? What’s the matter?”

She jolted, squeezing far more soap than was necessary onto the loofah in her other hand. “Nothing! It’s just— um, well it’s the same kind of body wash I use, actually.”

Jaime was, in fact, well aware of that, as he had spent far longer than was reasonable sniffing the various body washes in the local drug store before finding one that reminded him of her. But he obviously wasn’t going to tell her that, because it sounded terribly pathetic even in his own head. “Oh really? Tyrion picked it up for me when he went shopping yesterday.” Craven. Dirty rotten liar.

Brienne didn’t understand why Tyrion needed to buy body wash when the last bottle hadn’t been close to empty, or why he would have chosen a women’s body wash, but also didn’t see what she would gain from pressing the issue, so she shrugged and started scrubbing the loofah over Jaime’s arms and shoulders.

Chapter Text

Brienne and Jaime were standing in line at their usual coffee shop, engaged in a good-natured argument over an op-ed piece in that morning’s paper when a familiar voice intruded.

“Tarth, is that you?”

Brienne’s shoulders tensed but she willed her body to turn around and face him. “Hyle.” Her voice sounded strangled to her own ears, and she didn’t miss the sideways glance from Jaime.

Hyle Hunt flashed a toothy grin and shook his head back and forth in disbelief. “Brienne the Beauty! Should have known it was you— you are one of a kind.”

Jaime was eyeing the man with distaste. “And who are you, exactly?”

Hyle extended a hand towards Jaime, who simply waved his cast in the air as an excuse not to take it. “Hyle Hunt. Brienne and I are old friends. We went to high school together.”

Brienne let out a hum to signal her disagreement, “Acquaintances, really. Aren’t you supposed to be in the Reach?”

“Just graduated with my MBA. I’m in town for a few job interviews.” He ran his eyes up and down her body, making her feel bare and exposed despite the several layers of clothing under her wool coat. “The past few years have been good for you, Brienne. You look almost decent.”

She felt Jaime’s hand come to rest on her shoulder, his thumb making small soothing notions on the back of her neck. Her smile was cutting. “Wish I could say the same for you.” It really did give her a perverse kind of pleasure to see the beginnings of a beer belly and a terribly unflattering attempt at a beard on Hyle’s boyish face.

Hyle just let out one of his trademark laughs. “Glad to see the bitch hasn’t lost her bite— you always were a hellcat. Look, Brienne, if you’re ever in need of my services, the offer still stands.” The suggestive waggle of his eyebrows made clear exactly what kind of services he was offering.

She could just register the feeling of Jaime’s grip tightening on her shoulder through her own rage and disgust. She was practically vibrating with self-righteous indignation as she stalked towards Hyle, stopping inches from his face to look down at him. “Let me be clear. If you so much as try to touch me ever again, I will castrate you with the dullest knife I can find. Now, are you going to leave me alone this time or should I break a few more of your bones?”

Hyle’s grin melted off his face and he held up his hands. “Got it.” He cast a glance towards Jaime. “Good luck with that, pal.”

Brienne waited just long enough for Hyle to leave the shop and turn down the street before she let out the breath she had been holding. Her skin was crawling and her fingers itched and she just needed to get out, to get some air. She plowed through the door and darted into the alley past the coffee shop, just registering Jaime’s presence following behind. She paced back and forth a few times, trying to calm down, but she felt as though her skin could set off sparks and everything inside her was violently trying to get out. She punched her fist into the alley’s brick wall before even realizing that she meant to do it. Pain flared up, traveling from her fist up her arm and her knuckles were raw and stinging but she felt better, felt the thrum in her blood getting quieter, the roar in her ears diminishing.

“Seven hells, Brienne, stop!”

All of a sudden she was in Jaime’s arms, wrapped up with her head tucked into the crook of his neck. She felt surprisingly small. She felt the pressure of his cast on her back and his good hand smoothing her hair. She thought about fighting it: the closeness of him, the intimacy of his touch, of breathing onto his neck. But she was tired and it felt good to be held, and slowly his physical presence crowded out Hyle’s phantom one. Her breathing slowed to normal and she slumped in his arms, all the fight gone out of her, leaving her hollow and shaky. Jaime sensed the change and loosened his grip enough to look her in the eyes, pushing her hair back from her face and tucking strands behind her ear.

“Are you ok?”

She gave a shaky nod, feeling scorched from the inside out as adrenaline leeched out of her bloodstream. He gave her another squeeze before releasing her, all except her hand, examining her scraped knuckles carefully before letting it go.

“Do you want to talk about it?” It was almost strange to see him trying to be so gentle, trying not to push. But she already knew so many of his secrets, had seen him vulnerable so many times that it only seemed fair. Trust goes both ways. You showed me yours, I’ll show you mine.

She inhaled. “I’ll tell you. But I want to go home.”

He wordlessly wrapped an arm around her shoulders and started walking out of the alley, turning towards her apartment.

 

 

A few blocks later she rummaged through her bag to find a beat-up pack of cigarettes and a lighter, hands shaking slightly as she went through the motions, drawing smoke deep into her lungs like a balm. She knew that Jaime would remember their talk from the gallery opening, would know that the cigarette was a grounding mechanism. She focused on the solid feel of it between her fingers, her lips; on the delicate curls of smoke rising through the air; the way the smell reminded her of home and safety and quiet. Jaime said nothing but resettled his grip on her shoulder.

 

She put the cigarette out in the planter next to her building’s entrance, tossing the butt into a trashcan before leading Jaime through the double doors and up the two flights of stairs to her apartment. He took the keys from her and opened the door, ushering her inside before dropping the keys in the bowl on the hall table as though they did this all the time. Evie glanced up from her patch of sun, sleepily acknowledging their presence. Brienne slumped into one of the dining chairs, motioning for Jaime to sit in the chair opposite. They both shrugged out of their coats: her seated, him standing.

“You know you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, right? You don’t owe me anything.”

She met his eyes then, considering how different he was now from when they met—no longer arrogant and challenging and abrasive at every opportunity.

She wondered when they had come to rely on each other so much.

“I trust you.” It was the only explanation she had to give. She placed her hands on the table and took a deep breath.

“Hyle and I did go to school together on Tarth; we were in the same year. We both played soccer.” She chewed her lip, wondering where to go from there. Opted to plunge into the deep end. “My senior year, unbeknownst to me, the boys’ teams made a wager to see who could take my virginity. I could tell something was up, because I wasn’t the kind of girl that guys suddenly started to buy flowers and jewelry for. But there was a whole group of them trying to sit near me at lunch, bringing me flowers, leaving Shakespearean sonnets in my locker. I knew it wasn’t real, knew there was something going on, so I ignored them. But Hyle…his tactics were more subtle. He just acted nice— gave me his extra granola bar before practice one day, asked me how my weekend was, asked if I would help him study for calculus. I didn’t have many friends, but it felt like Hyle was my friend, so I let my guard down.” 

She hugged her arms to her chest. “One night there was a big party at someone’s house, all the athletes were invited. And I never went to any of them, but Hyle needed a ride and asked if I would go with him. Kept asking even after I said no, and that probably should have been a red flag but no one had ever wanted me to go somewhere with them before, and he promised we could leave after a couple of minutes. He brought me something to drink, but I still didn’t like the taste of alcohol so I drank it really slowly. And when I started to feel dizzy and tired, I thought that was just the alcohol, so I stopped drinking it entirely— threw it away when Hyle wasn’t looking. After another few minutes everything went black.” She could sense Jaime’s rage in the stillness of his body. Another deep breath. “He had drugged my drink, but didn’t realize how little I’d had of it, or how quickly it would run through my system because of my size. I was only out for a few minutes, long enough for him to get me to a bedroom and take off my shirt. He was starting to take off my bra when I woke up.” She saw Jaime’s hands fist on the table out of the corner of her eye. “There were two other guys in the room, by the door, and one of them was taking pictures with his phone. They were supposed to be proof that Hyle won the bet so he could collect the money. When I woke up and realized what was going on, I went berserk. Threw Hyle off me, immediately broke the guy’s cell phone. They tried to keep me from leaving when they realized what was going on, but I fought them all off. Ran to my car, didn’t even bother to get my shirt, went home.”

Jaime’s voice was a low growl, “Tell me you called the police.”

She shrugged. “We tried. By destroying the phone I ensured that those pictures would never see the light of day, but I also destroyed any proof of my story. And I had managed to break a few bones and give Hyle a concussion on my way out, so there was a chance they could press charges against me.”

“What about your shirt? What about the fact that he drugged you?”

“Tarth is old-fashioned. They didn’t have the lab facilities to test for date-rape drugs. As far as the cops were concerned, I was just a girl who changed my mind half-way through the act. Somehow the head coach of the boy’s soccer team found about the bet, though. Suspended every player who was involved for a month. Then the head of the athletics department found out— a woman— and forbade any of them to compete for the rest of the year, ruining their chances to get scouted for college teams, for sports scholarships. Every boys’ team had to play second and third-string players so they lost every game.” She could feel a lump growing in her throat and tried to will it away.

“And everyone blamed me. The coaches, the players. If I had just been less of a frigid bitch and let Hyle fuck me, then everyone else could have had what they wanted. If I had just shut my mouth and played along, everything would have been fine. So I graduated, then came to King’s Landing for school because no one else got in. Started over.”

“If we see that guy again, promise me you’ll let me punch him.”

She smiled and met his gaze for the first time since they sat down. “Deal.”

She blinked at the sudden hard realization blooming in her heart. “Do you know, in some weird way, I owe Hyle Hunt everything. If it weren't for him I wouldn’t have gone to King’s Landing University, if I hadn’t gone there I would have never met Margaery or interned with Catelyn. Would have never met Loras. Never started work at Winterfell, never met you.”

Jaime looked annoyed at the thought. “Well maybe I refuse to believe that. Who’s to say we wouldn’t have met anyway?”

Brienne shook her head. “If I hadn’t lived through Hyle Hunt and the senior year from hell, I don’t know that I would have had thick enough skin to handle you. He made me realize how strong I could be, that I couldn’t let other people run my life. It was a horrible experience, but it made me better. Honestly, Jaime, without Hyle Hunt we wouldn’t have made it to a second meeting.”

 

Jaime stared at the table, mouth in a hard line. Thinking. “Remember when we first met, and you said you wanted to know why I attacked Aerys? That you thought there was a reason I did?”

She wasn’t sure where he was going with this, but it was so unheard of for him to bring up Aerys on his own that she nodded. “I still do.”

He settled back in the chair, crossed his arms. “Everyone knew Aerys had a mean streak. He was infamous at Crakehall for bullying the younger boys, for coming up with the cruelest hazing rituals. I never liked him, but he was a Targaryen, and everyone acted like that made him untouchable.” He ran a hand through his hair, leaned his elbows on the table. “He asked Cersei to Cotillion. Everyone forgets about that. She said no, thought he was a creep. He ended up taking his cousin, Rhaella.”

“About half way through the night I went outside to get some air— the girl I was escorting had on this horrible perfume, and a lot of it, and it made me dizzy. Aerys was out there with a couple other guys, smoking. He started bragging about these prostitutes he’d burned. He’d tie them up and press lit cigarettes all over their bodies. He kept talking, even after I came out. I don’t think he saw me. Said he was never more turned on than when he could listen to them cry and beg for mercy, when they got that panicked look in their eye because they thought they were going to die. How he had to wake them up sometimes with a bucket of cold water when they passed out because it was no fun if they couldn’t cry for him.”

Brienne had a hand pressed to her mouth, in revulsion, pity. Couldn’t tear her eyes away from Jaime’s face as he continued in a matter-of-fact tone.

“Then he started railing against Cersei. Calling her a bitch because she had rejected him. Aerys said he had brought some GHB to put in her wine glass, had a hotel room reserved for them upstairs. Said he was going to teach her a lesson, that she would have a harder time getting dates once he was done with her. That she would be sorry for what she did.”

“I knew better than to try and tell anyone what I’d heard. Aerys was untouchable to them, and without hard proof they wouldn’t do anything. No one had done anything for years. So I just started hitting him. The other guys ran off.”

“But afterwards— if you had told the police, couldn’t they have investigated, proved what you heard? Surely at least one of those women went to the police.”

Jaime laughed, a dry bitter sound. “The Targaryens bought off every prostitute to keep them from testifying. Without them, it was my word against his. And what nobody ever hears is that Aerys was placed in an asylum as soon as he was released from the hospital. Two years later he went off his meds and set himself on fire like the Targaryens of old, trying to transform into the three-headed dragon that was prophesied a thousand years ago. But I was the unhinged violent offender who got off easy with 200 hours of community service.”

“Jaime.” She waited for him to meet her gaze. When he wouldn’t, she reached out to place her hand over his on the table. “You saved countless women from that monster. You did the right thing.”

“I kept telling myself that for years. It’s been a long time since I could really believe it.”

“Well I believe in you. I always have.”

Chapter Text

In the last week before Jaime's cast was removed, things got even more awkward when they both realized at the same moment that the loofah was missing completely. Jaime and Brienne both froze in a moment of intense mutual discomfort, staring at the empty hook on the wall of the shower where the loofah was supposed to be. Brienne felt like a deer in the headlights- was she supposed to wash Jaime down with her bare hands? Because that felt a little overly sexual for their current relationship, and her dreams had become vivid enough over the past few weeks without her basically feeling him up in his own shower for the next fifteen minutes.

Jaime muttered something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like ‘fuck you, Tyrion’ before he walked back out into the bathroom, dripping all over the floor. Brienne watched him rummage through the linen closet until he found a washcloth, which he handed to her once he was back in the shower, avoiding her questioning gaze.

It wasn’t ideal. Every so often her fingers would peek out over the edge of the washcloth to glide across slick bare skin. Once across his stomach, just above the waistband of his swim trunks, another time across his calf, and again down one shoulder blade. She apologized each time, face burning, and wished for once that Jaime would make some kind of joke to break the tension, but he just stood completely mute.

Chapter Text

Brienne went to the doctor with Jaime the day his cast was removed, because he asked if she would and then immediately looked guilty for asking. He was tense during the cab ride over, barely spoke, even as she tried to wheedle a grin out of him. She was fairly certain he was nervous. None of them had actually seen his hand since the accident, since it was first bandaged in gauze and then encased in a cast. She didn’t know how to tell him that it didn’t matter to her what it looked like, so she stayed quiet.

He was already scheduled to start physical therapy in three days, with someone who came highly recommended from Tyrion’s chauffeur, Bronn— a former boxer who knew a thing or two about injuries and rehab. When the doctor removing his cast heard the name he gave a small nod of approval, and Brienne fought to keep a relieved exhale from escaping into the near silence of the exam room. The whizz of the electric saw caused her to clench her teeth, but her eyes were open where Jaime’s were tightly shut. Even as the doctor peeled off the remains of the cast, his eyes remained closed. Brienne wanted to shake him. It’s real even if you refuse to look at it.

His arm was pale and grimy where the cast had sheltered his skin for weeks, and she could see puckered skin on his hand from scars, see the negative space where his fingers should have been but no longer were. But it was not the bloody, mangled mass it had been the last time Brienne had seen it free of its white case, and it was a strange, dizzying, illogical relief to see no blood, to see fingers and uninterrupted skin.

When she raised her eyes she realized that Jaime had been watching her instead of looking down at his arm, his expression strangely intense. She nodded, a tiny gesture of encouragement that finally got him to look down. He held his hand out in front of his face with a grimace, eyes tracing scars and damage and empty space, and managed the slightest wiggle of his fingers. The doctor praised that, said it was good sign for how well he could expect physical therapy to go, but Brienne watched the words float right past Jaime.

She thanked the doctor, escorted Jaime wordlessly to a cab and directed them to the waterfront. She wasn’t sure Jaime even noticed, his attention focused solely on his hand in his lap. She dragged him down the steps to the water by his good hand, pulled and pulled until he was at the shoreline with her. She directed his shoulders to face the water, hard and choppy and wild, and stood behind him.

He glanced over his shoulder at her. “Brienne, what are we—“

“Look at it.”

He wordlessly turned back to the water. 

“I come here sometimes when I feel sad, or angry, or inadequate. I come here and I watch the waves, and the gulls, and I put my feet in the water, even when it’s freezing. Because it reminds me that I am alive. It reminds me that I could have died once, but I didn’t. And it is such a glorious thing to live, Jaime. To taste the salt in the air, and feel sand under your toes, and water on your skin, and hear the sound of the waves. To talk to the people you love and listen to your favorite songs and read your favorite books. You have to remember that. You have to remember how much it means to be alive, because it will make even the hardest days bearable.” 

She wanted to rest her forehead against his shoulder, but knew that he needed to hear her clearly. “You couldn’t even say my whole name that night, and when I was in the ambulance talking to you to keep you conscious, you couldn’t say anything at all. So do you have any idea how stupidly happy and relieved I was to hear your voice the next day, even though you were being an ass?” 

Her voice was quieter, softer. “The last time you saw your hand it was normal; it was the way you were used to seeing it. And so today, when you saw your hand for the first time you were disgusted— and don’t argue because I could see it in your face.” She paused to wipe tears from her cheeks with the back of her hand. “But the last time I saw your hand it was limp and covered in blood and I could see your bones sticking out.” He turned around to hug her. “I just wanted you to live, did you know that? I didn’t think— riding in that ambulance and seeing what they did to your hand— I didn’t think that you would even have a hand left when the doctors were done with you. And I didn’t care as long you were still alive in the end.”

He was hugging her so hard she could barely breathe, although the pressure from his right hand was still only slight. He spoke right into her ear, “Do you have any idea how annoying it is when you are always right?”

She sniffled.

“Do you have any idea how much I appreciate you annoying me with your perpetual correctness when I act like an idiot?” She was crying for real now, which she found horribly embarrassing, but he kept holding her against his shoulder. “Thank you. For yelling at me in the hospital and again just now, and going to the doctor with me and not looking horrified or disgusted when that cast came off. Thank you for not letting me wallow and sulk."

"If you start wallowing again, I'll kill you myself." The threat was somewhat dampened by her tears, but he laughed all the same.

Chapter Text

Despite his PT’s assurances that he was making good progress, Jaime frequently found himself leaving their sessions more frustrated than when he had gone in. He had barely reached a point where he could hold a pen, let alone write legibly with it, and it sometimes seemed like there was no point in rehabbing his right hand when it would surely be quicker to train himself to use his left. When he had mentioned that train of thought to Brienne, however, she looked about ready to clobber him over the head. And so he kept on, doing the exercises he was assigned at home, slowly building back strength in his hand.

Initially he had been frustrated by how slow writing had become— although he could type with just his left hand, it was slow going, and adding in the right hadn’t helped as much as he had hoped. Brienne had suggested he start making audio recordings for himself— so he could speak the stories aloud and then slowly type them up once the ideas were saved. Sometimes she came over and typed what he dictated to her, or would ask him to email her an audio file to convert. She would say she was bored, that she had free time, and he accepted the lies as gracefully as he could. He certainly wasn’t getting his ideas from head to print as fast as he was used to, but it was better than feeling them fester and then slip away unrecorded in his head. 

 

Brienne picked him up from physical therapy once a week and took him out for coffee. Once, when she caught him staring at his hand with an expression that apparently displeased her, she had pinched him hard enough to bruise. She rolled her eyes at his insistence that he use cash to pay for everything, because his signature wasn’t legible enough yet to scrawl on receipts. How do you plan to get better if you never practice? She kept him working: constantly asking when he was sending her new material, if he had read her edits on the last section, what he was planning to do next with the story. She had seemingly channeled all her stubbornness into keeping him going, not letting him mope or whine or settle. 

His father hadn’t failed to notice her near-constant presence, since he had tried to pick Jaime up once after his session only to find the two of them walking out together. But he hadn’t looked at Brienne with the kind of disdain that Jaime had expected, and had even made a point of asking about her once when they were all together for a family dinner. Tyrion had nearly choked on a green bean in surprise. Cersei simply pursed her lips and took a sip of her wine.

Cersei had barely spoken to him since her hospital visit, but the subtle expression of disgust (nose wrinkled, mouth pursed) every time she saw his scarred and incomplete right hand was enough. Clearly she had no interest in fighting to maintain her rights to him now, a broken version of her twin. It was relief to feel free of her, finally, even as he struggled to stand on his own.

 

 

 

Slowly, slowly he was getting better. Could actually grip and hold and maneuver his right hand with some degree of precision. The first time he picked up, and held, and drank from his coffee mug using his right hand in front of Brienne he had watched her eyes grow wide in understanding, and then a smile lit her face and all those sessions of physical therapy finally felt worth it. When he was home alone he had taken to eating without a shirt on, after he had ruined three by spilling something on himself in his clumsy, fumbling attempts to eat using his right hand. He didn’t tell Brienne this, knew somehow that she wouldn’t approve of him using that kind of safety net— he mentally retorted that it hurt a hell of a lot more to spill hot soup on his bare chest than on his shirt, and that that was incentive enough to improve. 

 

His birthday was coming up soon, a fact that Tyrion had seemingly leaked to Brienne, as she was now insisting on taking him out to dinner. Somewhere nice. Jaime didn’t really feel up to eating in a fancy restaurant when the mechanics of eating were still a bit rusty, but knew that Brienne was right— he had to practice, put himself out there. She wouldn’t care if he dropped half his food back on his plate, and no one else who might see mattered. It was also completely fruitless to argue with her when she had set her mind to something.

 

 

“Brother! Happy Birthday!”

“Hello, Tyrion. Thank you.”

“Please tell me you’ve made progress with the situation.”

“My physical therapist says I’m doing well. I still can’t write worth a damn, but—“

“Not that situation, you imbecile. The Brienne situation.”

Jaime groaned.

“Don’t you groan at me, you are a grown man. You like her.”

“Tyrion—“

“You like her, she likes you; father tolerates her, Cersei hates her. All of these are good indications that you should move forward. I like her too, but I figured you already knew that.”

“Is this why you stole my loofah?”

“Steal is a strong word. I was trying to help you two fools move this thing along.”

“Tyrion, there is no thing.”

“You sound disappointed in the lack of the thing.”

Imp. “Look, I am sure Brienne doesn’t think of me that way. And really, she deserves someone better.”

“First of all, she absolutely does think of you in that way. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t have foolishly attempted to save you in that parking garage. She would not be picking you up from physical therapy once a week—“

“Tyrion, she just does those things because we’re friends and she was raised to be a decent human being.”

“You are an idiot if you believe that. And what do you mean she deserves someone better? You are generally considered to be a decent catch.”

“I’m over a decade older than her.”

“Some women like that.”

“I am now missing two fingers and can barely feed myself.”

“She is clearly the last person to care about the first part and the second part is only temporary.”

“My family is insane.”

“She has already weathered us admirably well without complaint.”

“I had an affair with my twin sister. I have two children with her that I can’t claim as my own.”

“Brienne knows this?”

“Yes.”

“And she still likes you.”

“Yes, as a friend.”

“She still cares about you. In spite of all your flaws. I feel like I’m winning this argument.”

“She cares about me because she is my friend.”

“Friends don’t blush quite so fiercely when they see their friend in his swim trunks.”

“She blushes a lot. All the time.”

“Yeah, when you’re shirtless or use any form of sexual innuendo.”

“Because she feels uncomfortable.”

“Oh for gods’ sakes. You love her. She loves you. Stop making this so complicated.”

“Tyrion, it is complicated.”

“It wouldn’t be if you would just suck it up and kiss her already.”

Chapter Text

She was 10 minutes late.

The wench was already 10 minutes late, and Jaime was furious. He hadn’t even wanted to go out in the first place, but she’d insisted, saying that she wanted to take him out for his birthday and that they should do something in honor of him completing the first steps of his physical therapy. She had chosen the restaurant— one of his favorites, passed on to her by Tyrion, no doubt— and picked the time and date. And now he was sitting at the bar, nursing a double whiskey alone because she couldn’t be bothered to show up on time.

Only it wasn’t like her to forget obligations, or to be late to anything. And she’d been even more conscientious than normal since he got his cast off, like she was worried he might have some kind of emotional backslide. He could have called her, should be calling her, to make sure everything was alright, but that would mean acknowledging to himself how much it stung for her to be late, how much it reminded him that they were just friends, and nothing more. That this was a celebratory dinner between friends and not a date.

 

“Jaime!” He felt her fingertips brush down his shoulder and spun the barstool around to face her, ready with some casually cutting remark to hide the fact that he’d been waiting. “I am so— sorry. Traffic was— terrible.” She was bent double at the waist, breathing hard, with one large hand clutching just under her rib cage.

“Seven hells, wench, did you run here?”

She straightened slowly, hand still clutching at what must have been a cramp in her side, and nodded. “My cab got stuck— around Baelor’s. Didn’t move for like ten minutes. So I ran the rest of the way here. I am so sorry I’m late Jaime, really.” 

That meant she had to have run around 10 blocks, a few of which ran steeply uphill. He felt all of his self-righteous indignation fall away. “Really, Brienne, you could have just texted to say you were stuck in traffic. Did you seriously run in those shoes?” He suddenly realized that she was wearing a pair of high-heeled pumps with a thin strap around her ankles in bright red suede.

He barely heard her answer as his gaze took in the rest of her ensemble. “Brienne, what are you wearing?” She had on her leather jacket, the one he had seen over a dozen times, over a sort of bra-top and high waisted pencil skirt. There was a thin strip muscled abs on display above the waistband of her skirt, which clung to just past her knees. He felt a sudden foolish urge to zip up her jacket, maybe lend her his blazer in order to keep the other men in the bar from catching a glimpse of her abs, the tops of her small breasts, her clavicle. 

She blushed and pulled the jacket tighter around herself without his help. “Is it that bad? I thought it was kind of ridiculous, but I was at Loras’ and I didn’t have time to change before I came here. Margaery said I would be fine…” Margaery was also likely responsible for her friend’s winged eyeliner and red lipstick, both of which only seemed to draw more attention to her crystal blue eyes. Eyes which had become veiled with a self-consciousness Jaime was well familiar with and hated to see creeping in.

“No, Brienne, you look wonderful. I’m just worried about how many potential suitors I’ll have to beat off.”

She rolled her eyes, but let her arms drop, the jacket falling open again. He doggedly kept his eyes on her face. “Jaime, I’m fairly certain I  have more to worry about on that front than you do.” She cast a pointed glance at a brunette across the bar, eyeing them with some degree of curiosity/interest. 

But Jaime was absolutely certain that she hadn’t even glanced his way until Brienne showed up…and sure enough, her gaze was fixed firmly above and just behind him. He chuckled. “Brienne, I hate to burst your bubble, but it isn’t me she’s staring at. It’s you.” He swiveled back around to face her with his most mischievous grin. “What do you think? Menage a trois? I usually go for blondes but if you’re interested I’m sure I could make an exception.”

The blush he had been expecting didn’t come. She shrugged nonchalantly and leaned her elbows back on the bar top, body stretched out straight as a plank in front of her. “I’ve been off brunettes for years now, so if you’re aiming for a birthday orgy we’ll have to keep looking.”

He nearly choked. “Just what role were you playing for Loras this afternoon?”

She sent him a sideways glance. “Seductive assassin. I spent all afternoon holding various potential weapons in one hand and a fancy cocktail in the other. Speaking of which, I need an actual drink.” She pivoted so that only one elbow was still on the bar, her body turned in to face him. “Do you want to sit down at the table I so painstakingly reserved for us to eat at or would you prefer a liquid dinner?”

“By all means, lead the way. Although since it is your treat, you should be aware that I intend to order the most egregiously expensive thing on the menu.”

“In which case I will simply have to compensate by subsisting on the complimentary bread basket and a glass of wine. Since I survived grad school on little more than pasta and coffee, I’m sure I can rough it for a night in honor of your birthday.” She noticed his frown with a fond smile. “I’m joking, Jaime. I’m not so poor I can’t afford to buy you dinner here or I wouldn’t have picked it.”

 

She weaved through the crowds up to the hostess, towering over everyone else in the restaurant in her heels. “Hi there. Reservation for two under Lannister.” Jaime raised an eyebrow but said nothing until they were settled at a table in the rear corner of the restaurant. 

“Wench, did you have to use my last name to get this reservation?”

She nearly snorted as she glanced down the wine list. “Are you kidding? I had to have Tyrion call in personally to get this reservation. When I tried to do it they told me they couldn’t possibly get us in until next month. The wait for Tyrion Lannister was considerably shorter, of course.”

“Brienne, how positively underhanded of you! Playing the system just for me.”

He noticed the faint blush rising up her neck with satisfaction. “It is your birthday, after all. How old are you again? 78, was it?”

He clasped a hand over his heart as though he’d been mortally wounded. “The old man jokes return. What was it you said to me the first time we met? That I wasn’t pretty enough for you and too old besides?”

She dropped her face into her hands, shielding it from view. “I can’t believe you’re going to throw that back at me when I was just trying to get you to shut up.” When she dropped her hands her face was defensive, eyes sparking with the tiniest hint of anger. “Besides you were an utter ass when we first met. You called me a great beast of a woman, and wench— and that was not an endearment when you first started to use it.”

He grimaced, guilt causing the back of his neck to grow hot. “I can’t believe you didn’t deck me, looking back. I would have deserved it.”

Her gaze softened. “I’d dealt with far worse than even you. And you’re not nearly so terrible anymore.”

“Mmmm, yes. This somewhat terrifying amazon woman came along and showed me the error of my ways. I’m very lucky she was willing to stick around.”

He was suddenly embarrassed by his own sincerity, and judging from the flush burning high on her cheeks and the way she was staring determinedly at the menu, she was as well. The awkward silence was broken by the chipper greeting from their waiter. Brienne gratefully ordered her glass of wine, and he ordered another whiskey before stopping to wonder if it would be wise for his tongue to get any looser than it already was. 

 

He told her all about the birthday party that his father had thrown for Cersei and him the week before, made her laugh as much as he could, reveling in the way her eyes lit up when she did. His Aunt Genna had very pointedly asked him every question she could think of about that girl who saved your life— the blonde one with the legs. Is she your girlfriend? No, Aunt Genna. Is she some kind of bodyguard? No, she’s my editor and my friend. Your friend. So she could eventually be your girlfriend? I don’t know, Aunt Genna. Maybe someday. Does she have any equally freckled sisters for your cousin? I don’t know about his latest, she seems a bit wild to me.

Most of his Aunt Genna’squestions had been repeated by his cousin Daven until Jaime managed to redirect their conversation towards Daven’s latest freckled girlfriend. Apparently Desmera was a yoga instructor. Daven had spent no less than ten drunken minutes explaining why her flexibility was so beneficial in bed, before Jaime had handed him a cup of coffee and shoved him onto a couch to sober up.

He recounted how Robert had managed to get so drunk that he actually tripped over his own children and into the table laden with trays of food, knocking over a veggie tray and some mysterious seafood canape. Cersei’s fury, the children’s laughter. Tyrion muttering sarcastic comments under his breath the entire night. Tywin looking utterly stern and disinterested in the whole thing, as always.

He sighed. “I do wish you could have been there, wench.”

He had asked. But she had her longstanding gig at the The Trident, and she was nothing if not loyal, and he knew that better than anyone.

 

 

They had finished their entrees and were talking easily, waiting for the waiter to come back and wave a dessert menu at them when Brienne started fidgeting in her seat. “Brienne, are you alright?”

She pulled her cell phone out of her pocket with an apologetic glance. “I’m sorry, it just won’t stop vibrating—“ She was staring at her phone, befuddled. “Marge has called me six times in the last fifteen minutes.” The phone started to buzz again in her hand.

“Marge, what’s going on?”

“Brienne, where are you?”

“I’m still out to dinner with Jaime, why?”

“Brienne you need to get out of there. Both of you. Get Jaime back to his apartment, make sure you enter through the underground parking garage so you aren’t seen from the street.”

Her grip on the phone tightened. “Margaery Tyrell, what is going on?”

Chapter Text

Brienne’s grip on the phone tightened. “Margaery Tyrell, what is going on?”

A deep breath from the other end of the line, static-filled. “Robert Baratheon just died in the hospital. Apparently he fell from his balcony earlier this evening.”

“An accident.” Brienne couldn’t tell if she meant that as a statement or a question.

“The cops who notified Renly said it looked…suspicious. It seems strange that an alcoholic would fall from his own balcony after only two and a half beers without some help.” There was a loaded pause as Margaery waited for Brienne to fill in the gaps. “He’s her brother. The paparazzi will be out for him as soon as they catch wind of Robert’s death. If they find out any details it will get even worse. You have to get him out of there and back somewhere private.”

Brienne held a hand out to stop their waiter from flitting past them, pressed her debit card into his hand and asked him to run their check. Jaime looked utterly perplexed. 

“Thank you, Marge.”

“Anything, Brie. Take care.”

She gently set the phone back down on the white tablecloth, staring at it for a moment as though it might suddenly jump up and scurry away. She started at the feel of Jaime’s hand settling over her own, noted concern in his eyes, in the lines etched deep into his face.

She kept her voice low, nearly a whisper, so he had to lean in to hear. “Robert just died— apparently he fell from his balcony earlier this evening…the police are speculating that it may not have been an accident.” She saw the exact moment that he realized what that meant, felt his fingers grip hers tighter on the table, his nostrils flare, his brows knit together. “We need to get you back to your apartment before the vultures start to circle.” He managed to give her a sharp nod, but said nothing. 

She felt helpless. He had to still love Cersei, in spite of everything; the girl he fell in love with, before all of the maneuvering and betrayals, still existed in his memories even if she had ceased to exist in the flesh long ago. Brienne knew that, made sure she never forgot. But even she could see that there was a distrust, a distaste for what Cersei had become. He had never liked Robert, neither had Brienne. But she knew better than most that Jaime believed in right and wrong and honor, and he would not want the unspoken possibility to be true, would not want to believe that she was so far gone as to become a killer.

She signed the bill, wincing only slightly at the grand total after tax and tip. She hadn’t lied when she said she could afford the place, but it was far more than her practical self normally allowed for a single meal. She called a cab to pick them up right outside the restaurant, ushered Jaime into the car in silence. Allowed him his space during the ride, didn’t try to initiate contact when he curled towards the door and stared out the window. 

She gave his address to the cab driver, directed him to the underground garage. Didn’t fail to notice the few scruffy-looking men already lazing across the street from the entrance to Jaime’s building, the lenses of the cameras looking like strange, bulky appendages in the uncertain light from the street lamp. Jaime insisted on paying for the cab, pressing cash into the man’s hand before Brienne could even protest.

She followed him into the elevator, stared up at the ceiling. “I made you a cake.”

It felt like the wrong thing to say, but the words burst out anyway. She felt his gaze shift to her, send jolts of electricity down her spine even as he remained silent. “It’s sitting on the counter in my apartment under this huge cardboard box to keep Evie from licking off the icing.” She felt a strangled chuckle emerge from her throat. “It was stupid, but I knew that everything at the party would have been catered, and it seemed so detached, not to have someone bake you a cake for your birthday.”

She kept her eyes on the display counting up the floors to his apartment. “What kind?”

“Red Velvet. It seemed appropriately Lannister.”

He laughed then, a manic sound that she knew meant he was close to tears. He stumbled out of the elevator doors as they opened, laughter turning into strangled hiccups that she knew would morph into sobs soon. She eased him down the hall to his door, steadied his hand so he could turn the key in the lock, noticed that he still used his left hand instead of his once-injured right. Once the door was closed behind them he went limp, keys dropping from his hand onto the floor, shoulders heaving with silent sobs. 

She guided his head into the crook of her neck, and stroked the nape of his neck softly, rubbing soothing circles on his back with the other hand. Ignored the shivers caused by his wet shuddering breaths against the sensitive skin of her neck, the trickle of tears down her shoulders. Was reminded of the night she had spent rubbing his back on the floor of her bathroom. Cersei, again. Would it always come back to her? Would Brienne find herself caught in some endless cycle of putting Jaime back together every time Cersei did something that tore him apart? But no, that wasn’t fair. She had put Jaime back together when men had broken his hand, would put him back together every time she was there to see him fall apart, no matter the cause. She knew it with a certainty that should have frightened her, but somehow didn’t. Kept petting him and murmuring soothing noises, the way she used to calm down a spooked horse.

She listened to the wet sound of his inhales, even as he stopped crying. Startled only a little when he burrowed his face further into her neck, breathing her in through his nose, just barely brushing his lips against the sensitive spot where her neck met her shoulder.

“She did it.” The words were muffled, murmured into her neck, the vibrations traveling across her skin like sparks. Jaime pulled back and looked at her, his face strangely still. “The way she looked at him at the party— it was like he was a bug that she wanted to crush underfoot. A nuisance she was tired of dealing with. But the kids—“ His voice broke and he burrowed back into her neck. The kids loved him. Despite everything else, he was their father— the only one they knew. And she should have known what it was like to lose a parent, should have known better than to take him away from them.

She fought for words to reassure him, “Jaime, you don’t know for sure that’s what happened. It could have been an accident. The police might just be overly suspicious.”

He reared back from her now, breathing through his nose like a bull. “Tell me. What do you know?” 

She put out hands as though to stop him from charging. “Not much. Margaery said he fell from his balcony, that he died in the hospital a few hours later. That the cops were suspicious because it looked like he only had two and a half beers and—”

“Anyone who knew Robert Baratheon would know that the man was effectively sober for almost an entire six pack of beer. Hells, even I probably wouldn’t be drunk enough to fall off of my own balcony after two and a half beers, and I’m nearly half the man’s size!” He was angry, tense, his voice echoing in the hallway.

There was nothing she could say to that that wouldn’t sound like a lie, so they stood there staring at each other. Jaime’s cell phone broke the silence. He cursed, a steady stream of muttered profanity as he dug the phone out of his pocket. Glanced at the screen and pressed the phone into Brienne’s hand as he walked down the hall. “I can’t deal with this right now. My hand is killing me.”

 

It was Tyrion’s face on the screen. Brienne answered. “Hello, Tyrion.”

“Brienne?”

“Indeed. Calling to warn Jaime about Robert Baratheon’s death?”

“I take it someone actually beat me to it.”

“Margaery called me about half an hour ago.”

“And Jaime?”

Brienne stared down the empty hallway towards where Jaime had disappeared. “We’re back at his apartment. But he’s…not good.”

A loaded pause. “Father already sent Uncle Kevan to the house, to be there when the police interview Cersei. So far everything is quite civil. Uncle says it will likely remain that way until the autopsy results come in.”

“What about the kids?”

“Their septa put them to bed right after they got back from the hospital, apparently.” 

Those children needed their mother to hold them, to tell them everything would be alright. They would cry all night, muffle their sobs in their pillows maybe, but they would fight sleep. In the event it finally came, the pain would flare up fresh in the morning light when they were forced to confront a new world in which their father was dead and gone. They did not need a septa, they needed their mother.

Tyrion’s voice was gentle. “Take care of him, Brienne. Please.”

She slumped against the wall and sighed. “Don’t I always?”

“You are far better than any of us deserve, Brienne Tarth. But I am grateful for you all the same.”

He hung up, leaving Brienne in a dark silent hallway holding a phone that was not hers. All of a sudden she became aware of an ache in the small of her back, a throbbing in her feet, the muscles in her arches cramping at the prolonged extension. Damned shoes. She sank down to the floor, not even caring that it was ridiculous to sit in the middle of a hallway— she couldn’t bear to stand or walk in these shoes for another minute. She attacked the buckles around her ankles with a ferocity that was unmerited, taking a kind of perverse joy in watching the immaculate red nail polish Margaery had applied earlier that day chip and flake off, fluttering to the floor in lurid specks. She gently eased the heels off of her feet and set them to the side, taking in the bright red of her swollen toes, flexing her feet to try and relieve the cramping and stiffness. She leaned back against the wall and closed her eyes.

What role did you play for Loras today?

Seductive assassin.

Her eyes flew open. I was her. Bile rose in her throat at the realization. She had emulated Cersei’s walk, her look of haughty disdain, the careful way she elongated her neck and cocked her hips. The red lipstick Margaery had chosen looked exactly like Cersei’s signature shade. Only now it felt too real, and the coincidence that she had played Cersei as a femme fatale on the same day she (probably) killed her husband made Brienne feel tainted in a way she couldn’t explain. Her skin started to crawl, and she couldn’t stop herself from rubbing at the lipstick with her bare hands, trying to get it off. She wanted it all off, wanted to burn the clothes and the shoes and her flesh and start over again as herself and make her muscles forget they had ever tried to move like her and be like her. She suddenly hated herself for how much she had enjoyed feeling dangerous and desirable and powerful, even if was only for an afternoon.

She lurched to her feet and yanked off her coat, nearly running into Jaime’s bathroom, wetting a washcloth and dragging it across her lips, rubbing furiously. Why does it have to look like blood? Kept her movements as precise as she could, knowing full well that if she didn’t the damn red would just migrate all over her face and stain it for days. Her lips were raw and swollen by the time she put the washcloth down on the sink. Jaime had left a pair of sweatpants folded on top of the bench outside of his shower and she yanked off her skirt and pulled them on. Whirled around, on a mission to find one of Jaime’s shirts to replace the bra-top, and smacked into him in the doorway.

He steadied her with his hands, his palm prints searing in to the bare flesh on her back, making her realize just how much of her torso was bare. “Brienne, what's wrong?”

But she didn’t know how to explain it to him and started shoving her hands against his chest. “I need to get it off, Jaime. Just let me go.”

Surprisingly, he did, but followed close behind as she marched into his bedroom and grabbed a sweatshirt that had been tossed over a chair in the corner. She turned her back to Jaime before tearing at the clasps of the bra top and yanking the sweatshirt on over bare skin. She roughly gathered her carefully blown-out hair up into a bun, messy and careless, before securing it with a hair tie from around her wrist. She was breathing hard as she turned back to face him, but the roiling feeling in her stomach was gone.

“Talk to me, Brienne.”

She waved a hand in front of her body, indicating the phantom clothes. “I was her all afternoon. For Loras. Her lipstick, her shoes, her mannerisms. I wore her like a skin— was still wearing her— and I just needed to get it off.” She was pleading with him to understand, she knew, wishing she could explain better, wishing she had the words to explain the itching just under the surface of her skin, the way that the clothes and the lipstick had made her feel on fire. But she was just the editor in this relationship.

Jaime smiled at her, a sad sort of smile that felt fond and sweet. “So you decided to wear me instead?” He stepped closer and rubbed the fabric of his sweatshirt between his fingers. “There is something weirdly comforting about seeing you in my clothes, but I could have found clean ones if you had asked…”

Before she could stop herself she had leaned in to his touch, resting her forehead on his shoulder to disguise her blush. “I feel foolish.”

He pulled her closer, almost flush against him, and started tracing circles on her back in an imitation of her earlier gesture. “Me too. Sorry I made you deal with Tyrion on top of everything else.”

She mumbled her words into his shirt. “Sorry I stole your pajamas. I seem to have misplaced the ones with the bunnies that you like so much.” She felt the answering rumble in his chest and smiled.

He ruffled her hair as best he could with it up in a bun and pressed his lips to the top of her head. “Come on. You can stay the night in the guest room. We’ll figure the rest out in the morning.”

Chapter Text

Brienne woke up far too early in a strange room in clothes that smelled like Jaime. She stumbled out into the hall and into his bathroom, brushing her teeth with her index finger and dragging a comb through the worst of the knots in her hair. She ambled out into the living area, grey in the pre-drawn light, and gravitated towards the wall of windows. She could see the Blackwater Rush from Jaime’s apartment, a few crenellations from the Red Keep off to the side. She curled up in a chair, hugging her arms around herself and watched the sun rise, hits of bright white glinting off the waves in the distance. 

She had left a voicemail for Renly late last night, expressing condolences at the loss of his brother. Had one in return that morning: He was an ass to me, but he was still my brother. A part of me still loves him, in spite of everything. But that doesn’t mean a part of me isn’t tempted to send Cersei a fruit basket.

Brienne was fairly certain Renly wasn’t the only one who was glad Robert was gone. But she still shouldn’t have killed him.

 

She wondered if the rich people who bought these apartments ever lamented that they couldn’t open the windows wide and let in the breeze, and wished for a moment that she was home on Tarth, watching the sun rise from the back porch, sea breezes ruffling her hair and carrying the scent of magnolia blossoms and grass. 

 

She was still curled up staring out the window when Jaime emerged two hours later to brew coffee. He brought a mug to her in her chair, his sleep-rumpled and bleary-eyed appearance making him look more like a little boy than she had ever seen him.

“You’re up early.”

She straightened enough to safely take a sip of her coffee. “I didn’t sleep all that well.”

Judging from the dark circles under his eyes, neither had Jaime. He sat down in the chair next to hers. “Tyrion’s on his way over. Apparently father has ordered us to circle the wagons.”

The Lannister battle plan. She started to uncurl her body from the chair. “I can get out of your hair then—“

“No!” Jaime seemed to realize that he had spoken more forcefully than was necessary, adopted a more apologetic tone. “I wasn’t saying that because I want you to leave, I just wanted you to know that Tyrion was coming. And he’s bringing breakfast— for all three of us.”

She settled back into the chair and nodded, not trusting her voice. They drank the rest of their coffee in silence, staring out the windows. 

 

 

Tyrion arrived with a large bag from a local bakery, which Jaime took and started to empty onto his dining table. By the time he was done there was a heaping pile of pastries and bagels and even a dozen cookies. 

“Tyrion, you do realize you brought enough food for at least ten people?” Brienne plucked a bagel out of the pile and set about cutting it in half. 

“I find that sugar helps my brain to function at its optimal capacity when it is too early to resort to alcohol.”

“Since when have the Lannisters ever adhered to socially acceptable levels of alcohol consumption?” Jaime started trying to eat a muffin using his right hand, occasionally re-balancing it with his left when his grip faltered. “So what does father have to say about this whole thing?”

Tyrion snorted. “He’s furious. Says that if Cersei did push him off the balcony that it is hypothetically the stupidest thing she has ever done and he has half a mind to leave her to her own devices.”

Jaime cocked an eyebrow. “Hypothetically?”

“Father says that we must be careful to approach everything as an unsubstantiated accusation. We must presume her innocence if we expect anyone else to. You ask me, he’s fighting an uphill battle with that one. Uncle Kevan is already worried that Cersei isn’t terribly convincing as the grieving widow.”

“Can they really blame her?” Jaime’s voice was bitter. “He was a terrible husband, a neglectful father, and a pompous asshole.”

Brienne spoke up for the first time. “Don’t get me wrong, I hated Robert Baratheon. From the first time I heard Renly talk about him, I hated the man. But this—“ she gestured futilely with her hands, “she had a million better options than this.”

Both brothers looked at her with questioning eyes. “I don’t blame Cersei for wanting to be rid of him. I don’t understand how she could have agreed to marry him in the first place. But the fact is, if you don’t want to be married to someone anymore, you get a divorce. That’s what people do.”

Tyrion shook his head. “And run the risk that Robert would ask for a paternity test for the kids so he could get out of paying child support?”

Brienne abandoned her bagel. “Robert Baratheon was a philandering scumbag. You cannot possibly convince me that she doesn’t already have proof that he fucked several underage interns and paid for them to have abortions so he wouldn’t have to deal with the scandal of a bastard child during election season. And even if she didn’t, it’s not difficult to hire a PI to get dirt on an alcoholic politician with an ego the size of the Red Keep.” Tyrion looked impressed.

Jaime looked surprised, but not necessarily in a good way. “And what if she did? You think it would somehow be better to drag everyone through the mud? Let the press air everyone’s dirty laundry?”

“No, I don’t think any of it would have had to see the light of day. In military history they call it ‘mutually-assured destruction’. If both sides know that they will lose everything by starting the conflict, they tend to back off. By having equally embarrassing information on Robert, Cersei would have an insurance policy against him going after her and the children. If she was capable of any kind of foresight whatsoever, she could have divorced him clean and been rid of him in the space of a few months. She could have taken the kids and run off to Dorne or Lys and lived a nice, quiet life financed by Robert Baratheon’s alimony and child support payments.”

Tyrion sighed as he broke off part of his apple fritter. “Cersei was never one to choose a quiet life. No doubt she hoped that by simply offing the oaf she could keep all the societal benefits of being married to him.” Chewed, swallowed. “Uncle Kevan says there isn’t much we can do until the coroner’s report declares the manner of Robert’s death. If we’re lucky, he rules it an accidental death and it all goes away. If he declares suspicious circumstances, or comes right out and calls it murder, then the circus begins in earnest.”

Jaime groaned. “I don’t think I can do this again.”

Tyrion rolled his eyes. “Since when do you think you have a choice in the matter?” He finished his apple fritter and wiped the crumbs from his hands. “Father asks that we refrain from speaking to the press and try not to behave like idiots in public for the foreseeable future. Brienne, if you would like to go home, I can smuggle you out of the garage in my car. It may be the only way for you to avoid the paparazzi.”

Home. The paparazzi. Right. “Um, yeah. I need to check on Evie, actually. I didn’t get to feed her last night.” She stood from the table. “Just give me a second to grab my stuff.”

When she emerged from the bedroom with her bag and jacket, still wearing Jaime’s sweats, Tyrion informed her he would wait in the hall. Like they needed privacy to say goodbye. 

Truthfully, there was a careful blankness to Jaime’s face that made her nervous. “You know you can call if you need me, right?” A blank nod. “Jaime, I want you to call me if you need me. I mean it. I need to go home and shower and change into my own clothes and feed my cat. My phone is nearly dead, and I need my computer so I can do my work. Otherwise I would stay with you.”

“Sure, wench.” His voice was flat, the ‘wench’ devoid of its usual affection. What is going on? He wasn’t like this earlier.

She gave him a hard hug, squeezing tightly in frustration. “Gods, you can be so frustrating sometimes.”

Chapter Text

It nagged at her the whole way home. Tyrion was silent, although she could tell that he knew something was wrong by the sideways glances he kept shooting her way. Jaime had to have known that she would need to go home soon. She hadn’t planned on spending the night away, didn’t have anything at his place. Not to mention Evie— she couldn’t not feed her cat. But he hadn’t been weird towards her until she agreed to leave with Tyrion. 

And you agreed to leave with Tyrion because you would avoid the photographers this way…

Was that it? Was he mad at her for wanting to avoid the press? They would have a field day if they caught an image of her leaving his building, in his clothes, barefoot and carrying a pair of heels. The ‘Walk of Shame’ headlines would be numerous. She would have to field humiliatingly explicit inquiries from Margaery and Olenna, a gruff interrogation from her father…didn’t Jaime realize that?

 

She kept running it through her head all the way through her shower. She tried to edit some of Ellaria’s latest article, but couldn’t seem to focus on the comparative materials of sex toys and their respective benefits. She made herself finish, sighing and running fingers through her damp hair in frustration at her own inability to focus, and emailed it off to Ellaria. Not five minutes later a chat screen popped up.

 

Ellaria: Heard about Baratheon. How’s your boy?

Brienne: For the last time, he’s not MY boy. And he’s…dealing with it.

Ellaria: The more you deny it, the more firmly I believe it.

Ellaria: Stop working. You should go cheer him up.

Brienne: Definitely not in the way you’re implying.

Ellaria: I could give you some pointers if you want.

Brienne: NO.

Ellaria: Suit yourself.

Brienne: I probably should go check on him though.

Ellaria: You should.

Brienne: I baked him a cake for his birthday; I could bring that over.

Ellaria: There you go! And then you two can eat it together…in bed…

Brienne: MIND. OUT. OF. GUTTER.

Ellaria: Not possible, darling.

 

Brienne typed her next line and clicked send before she could think about it too much. She needed a sounding board.

 

Brienne: I think he’s mad at me.

Ellaria: What for?

Brienne: I stayed at his place last night - NOTHING HAPPENED - but then Tyrion smuggled me out this morning in his car so I could avoid the paparazzi. So I think he’s annoyed because I avoided the press? But that doesn’t make sense.

Ellaria: Why did you want to avoid the press?

Brienne: Because everyone would assume that we had sex when we didn’t, and I would have to then explain that to everyone. Including my father, probably. Which would be awkward and uncomfortable. And Jaime has enough problems right now without being heckled for dating his ugly editor.

Ellaria: First of all, if you ever call yourself ugly again I will come make out with you SO HARD. Because I think you’re hot. Secondly, what if he thinks that you’re embarrassed of him? Like you snuck out because you would be embarrassed if people thought you were together because of HIM…

Brienne: What?! Why would I be embarrassed of him? He’s practically perfect.

Ellaria: Now see, the fact that you say that only convinces me that you’re in love with him. 

Ellaria: But he is older than you by over a decade, no? A fact which is at the forefront of his mind since his birthday. 

Ellaria: And he’s probably self-conscious about his injury and the fact that he isn’t capable of doing everything himself anymore. 

Ellaria: And his family is notoriously dysfunctional. 

Ellaria: His sister has been a total bitch to you. 

Ellaria:You never had to deal with the press before him, and he probably feels guilty.

 

None of that had ever mattered to Brienne. Even though she had teased him about his age before, she hadn’t really meant it. And she didn’t blame him for his family or the press. She still loved him— what? I love him? She dropped her head to the table with a long groan. Love was a word she had been carefully and conscientiously avoiding when it came to Jaime. Mostly because she was a coward and didn’t want to deal with the consequences of having ‘actual’ feelings for him. But Ellaria had used it, and now she had used it, and the cat was, metaphorically speaking, out of the bag.

 

Brienne: I’m guessing I have to talk to him about this.

Ellaria: Yes. In person. Don’t forget the cake.

Brienne: Ellaria, are you SURE about this?

Ellaria: Men are fragile creatures, Brienne. Especially artistic types. I’ve had plenty of practice with Oberyn. Jaime needs his ego soothed. 

Ellaria: Maybe a good make-out session, some hot sex, and he’ll be good as new.

Brienne: LEAVING NOW PLEASESTOP

 

Brienne gathered up the cake and her things, putting in a change of clothes and a toothbrush in case she found herself staying the night again. She put extra food in Evie’s bowl. Just in case. Told herself she was an idiot for considering the possibility, wanted to yell at Ellaria for putting foolish ideas in her head. Continued muttering a steady stream of profanity even as she walked out the door.

By the time she made it downstairs there was a small gaggle of photographers outside the door to her building. She would need a cab to get to Jaime’s, she couldn’t carry the cake and juggle her bag long enough to walk.

“Miss Tarth! Brienne! Where you off to today? What’s in the box? How do you feel about Robert Baratheon’s passing? Is there anything you’d like to say to his widow? Did you know Councilman Baratheon personally?” She eyed them, and recognized one in particular from her last bout of press. He had been nice enough, she supposed— always called her Miss Tarth, asked her how she was doing, had never cursed at her or made lewd comments like the others. And she knew he had a car. 

Might as well make some use out of them.

 

“Pyp!” He looked surprised, but walked up to her.

“Hey, Miss Tarth. What can I do for ya?”

“If you agree to drive me where I want to go, I promise a good photo op. A scoop.”

He pursed his lips, sucked on his teeth as he thought about it. “You just want a ride.”

“Yes.”

“Is it far? I ain’t driving you to Harrenhall or nothing.”

She sighed. “Jaime Lannister’s apartment.”

His smiled brightly. The cat that caught the canary. “Now that I can certainly do.”

She followed him to an old compact, waited patiently as he cleared spare lenses and newspapers off of the passenger seat for her.

They set off, Pyp driving a little faster than was legal, but well enough. “So what’s in the box, miss?”

“A birthday cake.”

“For Jaime? Mr. Lannister?”

“Yes.”

“That why you’re headed to his apartment, then?”

“Yes.”

She punched in the security code for the garage to Jaime’s building, blocking Pyp’s view of the keypad, just in case. “Alright, Pyp. You can get a shot of me going into the building carrying Jaime’s birthday cake. Then you’re gone. Understand? No loitering down here in the garage and scaring the other tenants.”

“Promise, miss.” He drew an x over his heart.

She walked into the elevator and waved goodbye to Pyp, smiling when he made sure to pull out while she could still see him, just before the elevator doors closed. 

 

Here goes nothing, I suppose.

Chapter Text

Brienne knocked at Jaime's door, shifting her weight from foot to foot.

“Who is it?”

“If I tell you it’s me, will you still open the door?”

His voice was surprised, and faint, through the door. “Brienne?”

The door swung open and she stuck the box out in front of her. “I come bearing cake.”

He squinted. “But how did you get in? I’ve been sitting in the window all afternoon and I didn’t see any cabs pull up outside. You didn’t walk here did you?”

“I had one of the paparazzi give me a ride from my place in exchange for a photo. He dropped me off in the garage. Cheapest ride I ever took, really.”

“Seven hells, wench, you can’t just get into cars with strange men.” He pulled her into the apartment, gripping her upper arm.

“Cab drivers are generally strangers, Jaime. Pyp’s hardly a stranger at this point. I know his name. He knows my schedule. We’ve seen each other over a dozen times. We’re practically pals at this point.”

“Are you trying to make me feel bad? I’m sorry that there are people stalking you at all hours and harassing you outside your apartment because of me. If I knew how to get rid of them, I would.” Point one to Ellaria. 

“Jaime, I don’t blame you. Seriously. Just forget about it.” She set the cake down on the counter and took off the lid with a flourish. “Voila!”

 

The cake had white frosting, and she had clumsily managed to spell out Happy Birthday Jaime in green on the top. Her normally neat handwriting looked embarrassingly like a child’s scrawl.

“You actually baked me a cake. All by yourself.” He looked awed by her effort.

“Of course I did. It’s your birthday.” She almost added on an exasperated we’re friends but the words stuck in her throat. She rummaged through his cabinets until she found small plates and forks, and cut generous slices of cake for each of them. She batted Jaime’s hand away when he reached for his, and pulled out a single candle with a flourish, setting it in the middle of his slice and lighting it. “Make a wish.”

He blew it out before she even finished saying the words. “Jaime, you were supposed to make a wish!”

“I did, wench.”

“You didn’t even have time to come up with one.”

He shrugged, almost self consciously. “I already knew what to wish for.” 

 

He took a bite of cake, holding the fork in his right hand. His grip was surer than she’d seen it, and she almost pointed it out—wanted to congratulate him on working so hard in physical therapy— but worried she’d only make matters worse by drawing attention to it.

His voice was a low growl. “I’m perfectly capable of feeding myself.” He must have noticed her looking. Point 2 to Ellaria.

“I know that. I was just thinking how fast you’ve managed to improve since starting physical therapy.” 

He scoffed, and his disbelief in himself, and even in her— thinking she was lying— made her angry enough to be honest with him. “I’m serious, Jaime. You should be proud of yourself. And you diminishing how much work you’ve put in to be able to hold that fork— it’s infuriating!”

Both their slices of cake lay forgotten on the counter. “I still can’t write my own name legibly, did you know that? I can barely sign a receipt when I buy something. I spilled soup on myself the other night.” He slammed his palm down on the counter. “How am I supposed to be excited that I can hold a fork successfully for one minute, when I know that odds are I will drop whatever I was eating the next?”

“Because your hand has only been out of a cast for six weeks. Because you couldn’t have held that fork at all a month ago. Because even if you did spill soup on yourself, you managed to get more of it in your mouth than on your shirt. You typed an entire chapter by yourself without dictation software— and I don’t care how long it took. If you could just see yourself the way I do— how fucking proud I am every time you send me an email without any abbreviations or typos, or open a door with your right hand, or hold a glass without it wobbling—“ Her throat was tight with frustration and anger and sadness and it made it hard to speak. “It makes me so fucking angry because I am proud of you and I believe in you but it doesn’t even matter if you don’t too.” She hated herself for getting so worked up, rolled her eyes up to the ceiling in a desperate attempt to keep tears from falling.

“Shit.” She heard him walk around the kitchen island and felt his arms wrap around her shoulders. “I’m sorry I’m such an ass.” He raised one hand to grip the back of her head. “I couldn’t have done it without you, Brienne. And now I feel awful because you came back, and you brought cake, and then I made you cry. Shit.”

She sniffled against his shirt. “You’re always an ass.” She pulled away from him, looked him in the eyes, her anger and frustration building. “But you’ve been worse than normal today. And I know that this is a weird time for you, but you have no right to take it out on me.”

His expression was cagey. “What?”

“This morning, when I left, you were mad at me. I’m assuming you are capable of enough rational thought to know that I needed to go home at some point and feed Evie and get a change of clothes. So were you annoyed at me for wanting to avoid the press? It was awkward enough when I had to explain to my father that nothing the tabloids were saying was true after your attack. But if I had walked out of your apartment building this morning, wearing your clothes and carrying a pair of heels, there would be walk-of-shame headlines everywhere. Do you think I want my father to see that? Do you think I want him to call me again, and sound all hurt because he thinks I don’t trust him enough to tell him we’re dating? How disappointed he always is when I tell him that I am still single, and that hasn’t changed, when all he wants is for me to have someone to love me?”

Jaime was blinking slowly, as though his brain was having difficulty processing the new information. “Oh.”

“‘Oh’. Is that really all you have to say?”

His eyes flashed. “You always want the truth, don’t you, wench? Fine. The truth is that I thought you wanted to sneak out because you didn’t want to be associated with me at all. Because you were uncomfortable enough when I was just older than you, and morally corrupt, and recently maimed. That you wouldn’t want to be connected to someone who had an affair with the woman who might have just killed her husband. And I couldn’t say I blamed you, but it did sting my rather fragile ego to have my best friend go slinking away under cover like she was ashamed of me.”

“I have never been ashamed of you. Not before your accident, not after, and certainly not because of something your sister did. I don’t blame you for being a Lannister— and that includes the fact that paparazzi show up outside my building on occasion. I have never regretted becoming your editor, and I certainly don’t regret being your friend. Now would you please stop inventing conflict and eat the fucking cake I made specifically for you?”

He silently took a bite of cake— from her slice, since it was closer, and chewed slowly, as though he was buying time.

“Well, now I feel stupid. And thoroughly chastised.”

“Good.”

"And the cake is delicious.”

"You're welcome.”

 He took another bite, chewed slowly again. Stared at the counter. "Do you think you can stay? I'm getting a bit stir-crazy not going out-“

"Yes, Jaime. I can stay." They both smiled shyly at one another. "Although you're going to have feed me something more substantial than cake. I'm actually hungry.”

"Well, in that case I say we have dinner and a movie! Pizza?”

She started to nod but he held up a hand abruptly. "And no, wench, we are not getting pineapple.”

"But I love pineapple!" He was laughing at her and shaking his head. "Really, I can't believe you are so prejudiced against pineapple.”

"I am just a sane human being, wench. A sane human being who understands that pineapple has no place on a pizza. You can pick the movie, but I am picking the pizza toppings."

 

 

When their pizza arrived an hour later, Brienne opened the box to find pineapple neatly arrayed across one perfect half of the pizza.

Chapter Text

When Jaime opened his eyes sometime in the early hours of the morning Brienne was sitting on the bed next to him, gently brushing hair back from his face, blue eyes alight with concern.

“You must have been having a nightmare. I heard you shout.”

Jaime dragged both hands over his face, rubbing the sleep from his eyes before stretching and putting them back down again. His left hand came down on Brienne’s leg, which he suddenly realized was bare— she must have gone to bed in nothing but a large t-shirt. He knew that he should pull his hand away, apologize, but couldn’t bring himself to do it. He felt muscles twitch under his hand, but she didn’t move away.

“Have you been having a lot of nightmares lately?”

“At least once a week. Sometimes about the attack, sometimes about Aerys. Sometimes just complete nonsense. Most of the time you’re there, even when you shouldn’t be. Usually you save me.”

“Oh. Well…I could stay, if you want me to?”

He wished this whole conversation was written down on a page so he could be sure she had said ‘to’ and not ‘too’. But the answer was the same either way. 

“Please.” 

His fingers had started to trace circles on the soft skin above her knee and he thought he heard a small hitch in her breath. He felt a dangerous little burst of hope, and the residual adrenaline from his nightmare making him a little reckless, brought her hand to his mouth— slowly, giving her plenty of time to pull away— pressing a featherlight kiss to her palm. He flicked his gaze up to see her eyes flutter closed and moved down to press a lingering kiss to her wrist.

His name was soft and breathy on her mouth, “Jaime…” 

He felt her pull away, and closed his eyes in embarrassment as he fell back against the pillows. He had misread her, of course, had succeeded in scaring her away. Would she leave now? Pack up her stuff and go home, never to return again? But his thoughts were cut short as he felt the mattress move around him and opened his eyes to find Brienne straddling his waist, her lips soft on his. Tentative and sweet and questioning. After a split second of surprise he responded, the two of them trading soft kisses as his hands rested on her knees. One of her hands was on his chest, just over his frantically beating heart, the other cupping his cheek before moving back into his hair. She gave a little hum as he ran his tongue along her lower lip, grasped his hair a little tighter as his tongue found hers. 

 

After a few minutes he allowed his hands to roam higher, sure now that she wasn’t about to bolt from his room. But the sight of his mangled hand against the smooth bright-white skin of her thigh made him falter, and he pulled his hand away. She pulled back, sensing that something was wrong, and followed his eye-line to his right hand, now lying uselessly against his stomach. She sat up straight and looked down at him, eyes sparking, face fierce. She picked up his right hand, mimicking his own motions from earlier, brushing her lips across his scarred palm with a tenderness at odds with the steel in her voice.

“Don’t you dare treat me like her.”

He swallowed, guilty at the mention of Cersei. His eyes widened in surprise as she kissed the stumps of his amputated fingers, lightly at first, firmer once she was certain it wouldn’t hurt him.

“Jaime, I would still want you if you had lost your entire hand.” He stopped breathing when she ran the tip of her tongue along one the long scars across his palm. Her voice was softer now, “But it just so happens that you still have two hands, and I expect you to use both of them. I want you to use both of them. Do you understand?” She purposefully placed his hands on either side of her hips, underneath her t shirt.

He lunged so he was sitting upright, pulling her torso flush against his and kissing her again, fierce this time with all the words he couldn’t say, running his hands up under her shirt to trace her spine and tease the underside of her breasts. He had gone to sleep without a shirt, so Brienne was already running her hands along his shoulders, down the planes of his back, tracing muscles and trailing heat along his skin. He pulled at the hem of her shirt, checking for her small nod before pulling it over her head and dropping it to the floor. He set about mapping her freckles with his mouth, sucking on some, nipping at others, loving the little sounds she made and the way her nails would dig into his back when he used his teeth. When he took one nipple into his mouth she arched and held his head in place with her hands, fingers softly stroking the nape of his neck, the curve of his ear.

He could have spent the rest of the night exploring her torso with his mouth, but Brienne pushed him back against the pillows and leaned in to trail kisses along his neck and jaw. He let out a groan when she sucked an earlobe into her mouth and nibbled at it, but when she bit and then sucked at the spot where his neck met his shoulder his hips bucked up against her. He was all set to be embarrassed about the whole thing (For gods’ sakes, you are not a teenager) when he realized that she had let out an answering whimper and had grown very still. Curious, he ground his hips up against her— slowly, deliberately— and watched as she bit down hard on her lip, her eyes closed, felt her thighs clench with the effort not to grind back down. He was now painfully hard, and tried to will himself to calm down but it was difficult, knowing now that she wanted him when he had wanted her for so long. He rolled, pulling Brienne under him, grateful that she kept her hands at his shoulders, let her legs drop to the bed to give him space. He rested his elbows on either side of her head and focused all his attention on trailing kisses over her eyes, her nose, her jaw, tracing the bridge of his nose down her neck. Turned his attention to her breasts, small and firm, and then to her stomach, reveling in the feel of her taut muscles under smooth skin. Kissing every freckle along the way, he made his way down until he could hook a finger under the waistband of her underwear, pulling them down her legs once she lifted her hips. He dusted kisses along her legs, gently pushing them apart.

“J-Jaime, what are you—“

Her voice was lost in a sharp hiss of breath as his tongue darted out to taste her, running back and forth along her seam. He shifted so that one of her legs was over his shoulder, holding her hip steady with his right hand while he lapped at her nub and slid a finger into her opening, humming against her in appreciation. As her breathing grew more frantic, Jaime slipped a second finger into her sheath, tightening his grip on her hip as it started to buck. Her hand fisted in his hair as she came, and he eased her through the aftershocks before kissing his way back up her body to her lips. 

He murmured against her cheek, “Pinch me.”

“Hmmmm?” She was heavy-lidded and languid in a way that made him feel smug.

“Trying to make sure I’m actually awake this time.”

She laughed a little against his throat. “I promise you, I’m real.”

“Yeah, but you said that last night in the shower, and the night before that in your bed…” He would have kept going if she hadn’t smacked his shoulder. “Don’t worry, you were much better in real life. A little quiet, but I’m sure we can work on that.”

Her voice was all exasperated affection, “You really are ridiculous.”

He pulled back to look at her, couldn’t stop himself from asking, half-joking, half-serious. “So was I better than your dreams?”

To his surprise and delight, she didn’t blush and smack him again, but actually smirked. “I’m not sure. You didn’t exactly follow the script.”

“Ahhhh, well I am very good at taking direction…”

She ran her hands down his sides, stopping at the waistband of his pajama pants. “Well, normally we’re just out of the shower, but we can skip that part.”

“Good to know.”

“But these have to go.” She snapped the waistband of his pants, and almost laughed as he heaved himself off of her and threw them, along with his boxers, across the room as quickly as he could. He settled back over her with a mischievous grin.

“Better?”

“Mmmhmmmm.” She went back to running her hands along his chest, but paused and glanced back up at him, suddenly shy. “Do you seriously want me to go through the whole thing?”

“Of course. I find it incredibly sexy when you’re bossy. I love it when you tell me what to do.”

“Normally you make a sarcastic comment and roll your eyes.”

“Trying to disguise my arousal, obviously.” He kissed her again, because he couldn’t resist, and whispered against her mouth, “I am at your service, my lady.”

She kissed him as she maneuvered their bodies so that he was sitting against the headboard and she was straddling him once again. “So, I take it this is a preferred position for you then, wench?”

She smiled against his lips before she pulled away and arched a brow mischievously. “I did tell you I’m an excellent rider, didn’t I?”

Jaime’s throat was suddenly very dry, and she let out a laugh at his wide eyes— throwing her head back in amusement. He pressed kisses along the exposed column of her throat, and she curled back in towards him, one arm around his shoulders and the other hand tangled in his hair.

“Jaime?” He hummed against her throat. “I want you. This version of you, not my dreams.” A little pause, before she continued in a more teasing tone, “Besides, how will I know if you’re better if you don’t improvise a little?”

“Is that a challenge, wench? Because you know I love a good challenge.”

Her only answer was a lingering kiss. He began tracing featherlight touches across her back and over her breasts, down her belly and the tops of her thighs. She sighed into his mouth, pulling herself closer to him. 

“Brienne.” She met his gaze unflinchingly. “I need to know you’re sure.”

She shuffled her hips so that his head was nestled right against her entrance and rested her forehead against his. “Please, Jaime.”

It was enough. He put his hands on her hips to help guide her down his length, kissing her hungrily. Felt her start to move her hips until she found a rhythm they both seemed to like, and he was thrusting up into her in time. She kept one arm wrapped around his shoulder and onto his back and he found that he liked the way it kept her close, the way he felt completely wrapped up in her. Chased her lips every time she pulled away to sigh or moan or take a breath, kept his eyes open to watch her, even as hers began to flutter closed, wanting to imprint it all in his memory. He could feel himself getting close, so he snaked one hand down to rub at her clit, feeling her dig her nails into his back and whimper. A few more careful strokes later and she was sighing his name, her breath shuddering in a way that drove him over the edge.

Afterwards he gathered her close, wrapping his arms around her back and nuzzling his face into her neck, when they were both boneless and breathing hard. Too soon, she started to shift and pull away, and he tightened his grip to keep her in place, thinking she was trying to leave.

“Jaime, I’m too heavy.” 

He relaxed a little at the affection in her voice. Not regretting it yet, at least. Buried his face in her neck, murmured into the sensitive skin just under her earlobe. “You’re warm.”

He thought he could hear her smile. “Last I checked there are plenty of blankets on your bed that we could be laying under. Because you may be warm, but I’m starting to get cold.”

He loosed his grip on her then, allowed her to rise up on her knees, off of him. She settled on the empty side, pulling the blankets up from where they had bunched around the foot of the bed to cover both of them, guided him down so he was no longer sitting against the headboard. After a moment’s hesitation, she lay her head on his shoulder and nestled herself against his side, settling more confidently after he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

“Good night, Jaime.”

He glanced at the clock on his bedside table. 3:17 am. 

“Good morning, Brienne.”

Chapter Text

Brienne awoke the next morning to Jaime pressed against her back, an arm slung across her stomach, and his feet stuck in between hers. Brienne had never ever in her life woke up with someone she had had sex with. She had always left their place long before sunrise.

Well, yeah. You didn’t love any of them.

She wasn’t sure what she should do. She was physically comfortable in their current position, but what if Jaime regretted last night? She really wasn’t sure she could handle waking up naked next to someone who didn’t want her to be there. She could go into the bathroom and shower— that was a kind of a comfortable middle ground, right? She wasn’t leaving him completely, but was also not going to be present for the moment when he woke up and remembered that they had actually had sex the night before.

Right. That should work.

She tried to wiggle out from under his arm as carefully as she could, but he simply tightened his grip and pulled her flush against him. “Where do you think you’re going?”

Brienne almost forgot how to speak. There was definitely something hard pressed against her back and the responding swoop in her lower abdomen nearly took her breath. “I—I was thinking about taking a shower. Did I wake you up?”

He rubbed his nose against the back of her neck, tickling her. “Nope. I’ve been awake for a little while now. But I figured I should let you get some rest.”

That did not sound like a man who didn’t want her in his bed anymore. Right? He could have easily got up and left before she awoke, instead of cuddling with her for an indeterminate amount of time. But she couldn’t know for sure unless she looked at him, so she summoned what courage she had and rolled over to face him.

Gods, but he is handsome. Tousled golden hair fanned out on the pillow around his head, and the corners of his eyes were just crinkled at the corners from the small smile on his face. Brienne was fairly certain she was blushing. “Good morning.”

“Good morning.” He shifted close enough to brush the tip of his nose against hers. She could feel the low rumble of his voice all along her skin. “Can I tell you a secret?”

“Hmmm?”

His words were whispered along her hairline. “Yesterday when I blew out that candle, I wished for you. I don’t think that’s ever worked before.”

She was definitely blushing now, but she also couldn’t stop the small smile on her face. “Maybe I should try baking more often.”

 

 

She was sitting in the kitchen, eating a bowl of Jaime's sugary cereal when she got a text from Margaery with a link to a story on InTouch Westeros.

Margaery: Please tell me this means you finally got laid

It was the picture that Pyp had taken the day before of her going up to Jaime’s apartment, the contents of her mysterious box finally revealed in print as a birthday cake. The story made sure to mention that Brienne had not been seen leaving Jaime’s building since.

Brienne: You are going to be insufferable about this aren’t you?

Margaery: OMG

Margaery: You would only say that if you actually HAD BEEN LAID. 

Margaery: was it good? I need details.

Brienne: A lady does not kiss and tell.

Margaery: Since when are we ladies?

Brienne: Ok fine I just do not feel comfortable give you a blow by blow

Margaery: Did you awkwardly overthink everything and ruin the morning after? because I didn’t get to give you a pep talk this time

Brienne: Almost. But no.

Margaery: So there was a round 2?

Brienne: 3? Depending on how you count?

Margaery: I just let out the most ungodly scream in the middle of the office

Margaery: I cannot believe you aren’t giving me details

Margaery: I give YOU details

Brienne: I NEVER WANT YOUR DETAILS

Margaery: prude

Brienne: just because some of us understand the concept of TMI

Margaery: Where is he right now?

Brienne: in the shower?

Margaery: WHY AREN’T YOU IN THERE WITH HIM

Brienne: Because I was hungry. I needed breakfast.

Margaery: you are hopeless

Brienne: I’m pretty sure this isn’t my last chance at shower sex, Marge. Chill out.

Margaery: You’re right. I just really need to get laid. Trying to live vicariously through you.

Margaery: You are on the front page of like all the gossip rags right now

Margaery: your name is even above all the weirdo speculation about cers.

Brienne: ???

Margaery: other than maybe pushing her husband off a balcony. they think that it may have been a result of overusing botox injections. That the spider venom made her crazy.

Brienne: So they think she did it?

Margaery: Nobody is dumb enough to say that outright. one of them says Robert jumped because he knew Cersei was going to leave him AND that he was set to lose the upcoming elections

Brienne: How long until the medical examiner makes his ruling? Have they told Ren yet?

Margaery: ‘in the next few days’

Margaery: they won’t be more specific. 

Brienne: Am I a bad person for kind of hoping they rule it an accident?

Margaery: No, I get it. Weirdly enough Ren seems to feel the same way.

Brienne: I mean, it’s mostly because I don’t want the kids to lose their mom. Or have to hear a bunch of horrible things about both parents if it goes to court.

Margaery: Well for now all we can do is wait.

Margaery: You should use this time to make out with Jaime some more. Round 4?

Brienne: Like I said. Insufferable.

Margaery: Wait until I tell Olenna.

Chapter Text

Jaime came into the kitchen, smirking, with nothing but a towel wrapped around his hips, hair still damp from the shower. Brienne dropped her head onto the counter, trying to hide her bright red cheeks; she had not been lying the evening before when she said that most of her Jaime fantasies had started with them either in or fresh out of the shower.

He sounded amused. “I must say, that wasn’t exactly the reaction I was going for.”

“I can’t decide if you’re making fun of my shower-fantasy confession or trying to take advantage of it.”

“Take advantage of it. Definitely.”

She peeked up to find him across the counter from her, mischievous smile in place. 

“I’m trying to make up for lost time. Can you blame me?”

She pursed her lips, trying to hide the grin threatening to split her face. “There is also such a thing as pacing yourself. I’m not going anywhere, Jaime.”

“As the practical one in this relationship,” Brienne raised a skeptical eyebrow, “I would like to remind you that your cat will, at some point, need to be fed.”

Brienne nodded. “I meant that more figuratively than literally. But yes. I gave her extra food when I left yesterday, but I’ll definitely need to go back tomorrow morning at the latest.”

His grin suddenly reappeared. “Brieeeennnnne. Are you saying you planned to be here overnight? Were you plotting to seduce me?”

“Don’t be an ass, Lannister.”

“My gods, you kind of were.” He was suddenly behind her, arms wrapped around her waist. “You are making it very difficult to follow through on this whole ‘pace myself’ thing.” 

She unconsciously leaned back into the warmth emanating from his chest and tilted her head to the side, prompting him to drop kisses down the side of her neck and drag an open mouthed kiss across her shoulder. He groaned into her skin and pulled back. “I’m going to go get dressed now so that we can actually talk.”

Brienne nodded solemnly, fighting to contain her smile. “Good idea.”

 

 

While Jaime got dressed, Brienne wandered into the living room and peeked out the window, nearly jumping back when she realized how much the crowd of press and photographers had grown since the day before. 

“This is just getting ridiculous. Don’t you people have better things to do?”

“Brienne, who are you talking to?” She gestured out the window and waited as Jaime approached and looked down. “Fuck.”

“Okay, I said yesterday that I in no way blame you for this, and I meant it. 100%. But I hate the thought of encouraging them by giving them what they want.”

“So we can’t leave my building? Well I’m pretty sure I can think of a few ways to amuse ourselves in here.” He tickled her side, causing her to squeal and dance out of his reach.

“Or, Mr. Author, you could finish that essay you owe Westeros Magazine. Need I remind you that your deadline is in three days?”

“Gods, wench. You never stop do you?”

She smiled broadly. “Someone has to keep you in line.”

“Only you.”

 

She was sitting on Jaime’s couch, typing up his ideas for the essay while he paced back and forth in front of her. She decided that typing up Jaime’s dictations were infinitely more enjoyable when she could watch him and hear his voice— however that might have just been the afterglow talking. 

It would have been easy to join him in the shower this morning, or to fall back into bed with him afterwards. She knew, too, that she could get up from the couch, take his hand and lead him to bed and he would follow without argument. But she also knew that it would be too easy to fall into a routine dangerously similar to what he had had with Cersei— spending all their time in bed, falling into a pattern that was comfortable but devoid of depth. He needed to know— and frankly so did she— that this relationship, whatever it was, did not change the friendship that they had painstakingly developed over the past months. Not that she was going to keep him waiting for too long.

His phone rang from its place on the coffee table and he paused in his pacing to scoop it up.

“Tyrion?”

She pressed save, started re-reading the latest section in search of typos.

“You have got to be joking.” She glanced up, saw him beckoning her over. “Hold on, I’m going to put you on speaker so Brienne can hear.”

“Hey, Brienne! So glad to hear you’re still at Jaime’s place…”

She could hear the self-satisfied smirk on his face.

“Shut up, Tyrion.”

“Moving on. I just got a call from Uncle Kevan. Apparently the police stopped by Cersei’s place this morning to let her know that Robert’s death is being ruled as a suicide—”

“What?”

“—because they found a suicide note on Robert’s computer.”

“It’s been nearly two days; why didn’t they find it sooner?”

“Robert’s laptop was password protected, and nobody knew the password. Since he was a government employee he had to change it every six weeks— and you know how ridiculous password requirements can be. It took them this long to hack it.”

Brienne’s mind was racing. “So it’s over?”

“Legally, yes.”

Jaime ran a hand through his hair. “Do any of us really believe this?”

“According to the note, he found out that Cersei had been to see a divorce attorney and he was afraid to lose his kids.”

“Yeah, all said in a typed suicide note. No handwriting, no signature.”

“Brother, just be glad this is over and you can get back to your amazon without this nonsense hanging over you.”

 

 

“I don’t believe this.”

“I know, Jaime.”

“No, Brienne, I literally do not believe this crap. Don’t tell me that you honestly think Robert killed himself?”

Brienne chewed on her lower lip and stared out the window. “Personally, knowing both of them: no. I don’t think so. But do I think that the public will probably believe it once they hear about the suicide note being found on a password protected computer that took two days to hack? When they find out he’s been a raging alcoholic for years? Some of the tabloids were already floating suicide theories.”

She slumped down on the couch. “Even if they put Cersei on trial tomorrow, this could probably create enough reasonable doubt to keep her out of jail. Apparently her plan was better thought out than I gave her credit for.”

He plopped down next to her on the couch. “So now what?”

She tilted her head to look at him. “What do you mean?”

He waved his hands the air. “It just feels like everything is up in the air right now. What happens with Cersei and the kids. How the press spins this story. You and me. It’s like I’ve been fighting my way through a storm to get to this point and now the storm is suddenly over and I don’t know how to move forward.”

She took his hand, intertwined their fingers. A small part of her wanted to feel hurt, but she felt the same way. What were they now? She couldn’t very well just come out and say that she loved him when they had been nothing more than friends a mere twelve hours earlier. And the rest of it was entirely out of their control.

“Maybe we need to take a break.” 

She felt his hand tighten around hers and realized her mistake, hastily tried to clarify. “Not from each other— just in the general sense. Get away from King’s Landing and the press and all the scandals. The past two months have been hard on both of us— mostly you— and maybe a break would do us both some good.”

He seemed to consider her suggestion. “When’s the last time you went home?”

“To Tarth?” He nodded. “Gods, it’s been awhile…a couple of weeks before I started working with you. It’s probably been close to a year.”

“So let’s go to Tarth.”

Surprised, she turned to face him fully. “You want to go to Tarth with me?”

“Why not? It’s quiet, away from the press. I could meet your dad, learn all the embarrassing stories from your childhood he’s willing to share with me— provided he doesn’t kill me on sight.” She slapped his shoulder, only causing his grin to widen. 

“We’d be staying in the house, you do realize this? No five star hotels. No room service. We might even have to help out around the ranch.”

His eyes sparked with mischief. “Well I might need a hand if you’re going to give me chores.”

She groaned. “Did you seriously just make a hand pun?”

He pressed a quick kiss to her temple. “All kidding aside. What do you say?”

She nodded slowly. “Let me call Dad and let him know we’re coming.”

Chapter Text

Jaime had never been to Tarth. He had been to Volantis and Lys, Winterfell and Dorne— places farther away and more exotic than Tarth, places one would normally assume were harder to reach. But all he had ever had to do to get to those places was go to the airport and get on a plane. To get to Tarth, he and Brienne rented a car, and drove down the coast all the way to Storm’s End, where they then drove onto a ferry that would take them out to Tarth.

“Would you calm down?”

Brienne was standing up against the railing of the boat, looking out at the water, hair blowing in all directions. Jaime was next to her, shifting his weight from foot to foot, running a hand through his hair every thirty seconds.

“Brienne, this is not natural. Why isn’t there a bridge? Cars are not meant to go on boats. They are two disparate modes of transportation.”

“Bridges are expensive, especially one that would go all the way out to Tarth. Would it make you feel better if I tell you I have done this at least fifty times in my life without incident?”

“So far, wench. You have made this journey without incident so far. And why aren’t you nervous?” He could not fathom how someone who nearly died in a boating accident could be so utterly calm on open waters.

“Honestly?”

He nodded.

“A gypsy told me once that the sea was a part of me and in some weird, crazy way it made sense. It doesn't scare me anymore.”

She finally turned away from the water to face him with a fond smile, leaned in to peck him on the lips. “I promise I will get you to dry land. In the meantime, try to enjoy the view.” 

She turned back to the waves that were somehow the same blue as her eyes, and Jaime watched her take a deep inhale through her nose. Even though King’s Landing was technically on the water, it smelled like a city: exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke and rotting trash. Now Jaime understood why Brienne occasionally lamented the lack of fresh air— it smelled like seawater and flowers out here. Actually it smelled a lot like Brienne’s body wash, and he wondered if she had spent some afternoon after her arrival in King’s Landing wandering the aisle of the store in search of something that smelled like home, the way he had a few weeks earlier.

 

Her father had been thrilled by their proposed last-minute visit when she had called two days ago, his booming voice echoing out of the phone loud enough for Jaime to hear. About time you brought that boy out here. I was about ready to head up to King’s Landing if I saw another one of those stories… Brienne had turned beet red; scurried into the kitchen, out of Jaime’s earshot. When she came back, still blushing, she informed Jaime that her father was planning to put him in Galladon’s old room (long since redecorated) rather than the usual guest room. Apparently his and her room would be connected by a bathroom, so they would be able to go back and forth without having to go out in the hall. She looked vaguely mortified. Jaime had laughed and given her a hug.

It had at first seemed a great relief that Selwyn Tarth seemed accepting and even accommodating of Jaime being in a more-than-platonic relationship with Brienne. But the closer they got to the coast of Tarth, the more aware Jaime became of the fact that in all their arranging of travel plans, he and Brienne had still not had the talk. Were they dating in an official sense? Could he call her his girlfriend in public without her knocking his teeth in? He thought so— after everything they had been through together, they could hardly claim this was a relationship solely based on sex. But Jaime had even less experience with ‘normal’ relationships than Brienne, so what did he really know? He was nearly forty years old and had never actually dated anyone. It was a frankly humbling realization.

 

As he stood there watching her watch the ocean around them, he realized that the look on her face was the same one she sometimes directed towards him when she didn’t think he was looking. When he would turn around to find her blue eyes focused on him, quiet and still. He wondered what that meant. He wondered if she realized it.

He wrapped his arms around her from behind, whispered in her ear, “We could probably manage a quickie in the car before we dock…”

She let out a shocked laugh. “Jaime, we rented a compact. Between our bags and Evie’s carrier there is no way two people over six feet tall are going to manage sex in the backseat.”

“Come on, you don’t even want to try?”

She turned around, putting on her best disapproving expression. “Also, that car has six windows. And we are technically in a public space.”

“So, no exhibitionist streak?”

“No. And before you even try to suggest it, we are not having sex on the beach.”

He teased her with a faux-disappointed gasp. “Seriously?”

“One thing you learn growing up on an island: sand gets everywhere.”

“Ouch.”

“Exactly.”

“How about shower sex?”

“I can probably deal with that.”

"How about table sex?"

"That might have to wait until we are not in my Dad's house."

"I can wait."

Chapter Text

Olenna: So is he as good as he looks?

Brienne: I’m am so getting Margaery for this

Olenna: Darling, I am an old woman. Humor me.

Brienne: I wouldn’t even tell Marge. What makes you think I’m going to tell you?

Olenna: I can give you some pointers…

Brienne: First of all, ew. You are practically my grandmother.

Brienne: Second of all, IF I wanted pointers, WHICH I DON’T, I could ask Ellaria.

Brienne: But if this will get you to leave me alone, we are doing just fine. Without anyone’s pointers.

Olenna: Be sure to tell him that if he hurts you, I know people.

Brienne: OLENNA

Brienne: no threats. considering his history they’re kind of in bad taste.

Olenna: Point taken.

Olenna: But I do not make idle threats.

Brienne: Seven hells.

Chapter Text

Selwyn Tarth was, in defiance of all logic, taller and larger than Brienne. It was a strange sensation for his indomitable editor to look so small as she ran into her father’s outstretched arms. When her father loosened his grip, she twisted back around to face Jaime with an endearingly crooked smile.

“Dad, this is Jaime.”

Jaime stepped forward to shake the man’s hand, noticing his utter lack of reaction to Jaime’s missing fingers. Maybe soldiers are used to facing other people’s wounds. 

Or Brienne warned him ahead of time.

“I’m glad I finally get to meet the man my daughter’s been spending so much time with.” 

Jaime saw Brienne give her father a warning pinch on the arm, could practically hear her hissed ‘behave’. He had already received commands to be on his best possible behavior in front of her father.

To be honest, he was pretty certain he was too nervous to snark.

“I can’t thank you enough for letting me come out here with Brienne, sir. I really appreciate it.”

“Well, I know my little star, and if I had tried to make you stay in a hotel no doubt she would have stayed in one too, just to prove a point.” 

Brienne blushed, actually did hiss at her father under her breath. Selwyn laughed and clapped Jaime on the shoulder, almost hard enough to knock him over.

“It’s her house as much as it is mine, and any of her friends are welcome. Come on inside, dinner should be ready in a few minutes.”

 

 

Dinner consisted of Jaime and Brienne, alongside Selwyn and a woman named Moriah. Brienne leaned over to whisper in Jaime's ear that Moriah had been the family housekeeper and cook for over a decade. She was close to Selwyn's age, and judging from photos in the living room, she was the physical opposite of Brienne's mother. Short, curvy, brunette, brown eyes. 

If anything Moriah was more suspicious of Jaime than Selwyn- watched him carefully, eyes narrowed, as she asked about his work and his family, his interests. She seemed to relax as the meal wore on, even apologizing for not cooking something easier for him to eat as he struggled to cut his steak. Brienne kept glancing over, watching his slow progress in silence until she finally let out an annoyed huff and stabbed his steak with her fork, holding it still enough for him to cut easily.

One of the ranch's dogs, a giant black lab named Stella, kept snuffling around under the table in search of scraps. She finally settled her head in Brienne's lap, content to settle for ear scratches as the meal wound down and Moriah brought out cups of banana pudding.

Selwyn told Brienne that one of the men from the stables and his wife had a new baby named Theo. She asked after a whole host of ranch employees and their families, with Moriah filling in what Selwyn forgot. Selwyn asked Brienne if she would help Goodwin rehabilitate a horse named Tansy- an abuse case that they had agreed to take in when the local humane society gave them a call. Apparently Goodwin had been working with her for two weeks already and she was still skittish around people. Selwyn turned to Jaime, clearly proud as he spoke about how Brienne was always great with spooked horses, always patient enough to wait them out. Brienne shushed him, embarrassed and blushing at the praise, and said she promised to help Goodwin if he would stop making her out to be a saint.

It was dark out by the time Jaime and Brienne grabbed their bags from the front hall, making their way back to their rooms to unpack separately.

 

 

 

It looked like Jaime had just finished unpacking when Brienne entered his room from their shared bathroom. “Is everything okay? Dad forgot to put sheets on the bed when Margaery came to visit last time…”

He sprang off the bed and in a split second had one hand gripping her waist and his mouth on her neck, backing her slowly into the wall. “Do you have any idea how badly I have wanted to touch you all afternoon?”

She had some idea. Both from the occasional heated glances during dinner when no one was looking, and the way he was pressed up against her now. And she was grateful that he had managed to keep their interactions PG in front of her dad, but felt her own need beginning to gnaw at her, saw her hands roaming over the planes of his chest greedily, seemingly of their own accord. 

He pressed her firmly against the wall, leaving no space between their bodies, and still it didn’t feel like enough when he kissed her as though she were the only thing keeping him alive. They broke away from each other just long enough to shed their clothes, before pressing back together skin to skin, mouths coming together hard enough to bruise. She lifted one leg over his hip, desperate for more contact, more friction; sighed when he ran his hand along her thigh and lifted her leg higher, pressing his hips against her. Raked her nails down his back when he slid into her to the hilt, arched her back when he dragged an open mouth across her collarbone, bit into his shoulder to muffle the sound of her climax.

When she mustered the energy to lift her head off his shoulder and saw the mark her teeth had left, two arcs of red on golden skin, she dropped a quick kiss over it. She felt a slight twinge of guilt pricking the back of her throat until she remembered a line from one of her favorite childhood books— I’ll eat you up, I love you so— and smiled into his skin.

“You realize it’s only fair if I get to leave a love mark now too, right?”

“What nonsense are you spouting?” She glanced up, smiling at the mischief in his green eyes.

“You bit me hard enough to leave a mark— don’t wince, Brienne. Believe me, I’m not complaining.” Considering the way he had swelled inside her when she bit down, she chose to believe him, willed away the guilt.

“But I think it’s only fair that since you got to stake your claim, I get to stake mine.”

“Is this some kind of weird male dominance thing? Like you need every other man in the area to know I’m yours even if they weren’t interested in the first place?”

“Oh no, this is definitely just for me.” 

The honeyed quality of his voice sent shivers running across her skin. She considered him for a moment, his expression equal parts playful and serious, before purposefully tilting her head back, offering up her torso. He grinned, sharp and fast, before swooping down to nip at a patch of skin just above her left breast. When he started sucking and then licking over the same spot she let her head fall back against the wall and gripped his upper arms. 

I’ll eat you up, I love you so.

Chapter Text

Ellaria: I am so proud of you! Getting your man.

Ellaria: How’s the sex? Not too vanilla?

Brienne: By your standards, El, everyone’s sex life is vanilla

Ellaria: I don’t expect you to suddenly start experimenting with multiple partners. But at least tell me you’ve been more adventurous than missionary.

Brienne: Why is everyone so determined to weasel out details about my sex life?

Brienne: Pretty sure Jaime doesn’t have to deal with this

Ellaria: Because you have people who love you.

Ellaria: And I do not believe for one second that his little brother is not pestering him for details.

Ellaria: BTW, I know you don’t need any pointers. BUT there is this one position, where he lies on his back with one leg bent and you straddle him sideways— you can press against his leg for clitoral stimulation and play with his balls as you're riding him.

Ellaria: Give it a try. You will both see stars.

Brienne: Seven hells. I am throwing my phone away.

Ellaria: If you get rid of your phone, I’ll just email you links.

Ellaria: WITH PICTURES

Brienne: Now you're just fucking with me.

Ellaria: Oberyn just asked what I am 'cackling' about

Ellaria: I love picturing your blush when I send you outrageous suggestions

Brienne: I will get you back for this.

Brienne: Somehow. Someday.

Ellaria: Darling, you don't have it in you

Brienne: *sigh* you're probably right.

Chapter Text

Loras: I can’t believe I was the last person to find out you were having sex with Jaime Lannister

Brienne: How do you know you were last?

Loras: Olenna and Margaery lorded it over me at family dinner night

Brienne: Oops?

Brienne: His Dad probably still doesn’t know. If that helps.

Loras: A teeny bit.

Loras: Can we have a redo of that kink photo shoot with you and Jaime?

Loras: The sexual chemistry would be off-the-charts good

Brienne: A THOUSAND TIMES NO

Loras: Can I take your engagement photos?

Brienne: We aren’t even engaged. We’ve only been ‘dating’ for a couple of days. Slow your roll.

Loras: It’ll happen.

Loras: You two have been arguing like a married couple since the beginning.

Brienne: You saying that doesn’t make it true

Loras: Haven't you heard of the power of suggestion?

Brienne: I'm pretty sure that doesn't work the way you think it works

Loras: Do you know the only thing I love more than making art?

Brienne: Renly?

Loras: Okay, the only ACTIVITY I love more than making art

Brienne: Having sex with Renly?

Loras: Fuck. OTHER THAN THAT?

Brienne: ...eating?

Loras: PLANNING WEDDINGS

Loras: I LOVE PLANNING WEDDINGS

Brienne: Pretty sure yours is guaranteed to come before mine 

Brienne: HYPOTHETICALLY

Brienne: Also, I am pretty sure that is a lie because YOU HAVE NEVER PLANNED AN ACTUAL WEDDING. Pinning to Pinterest doesn't count.

Loras: WHY CAN'T YOU LET ME BE HAPPY FOR YOU

Brienne: I AM HAPPY THAT YOU'RE HAPPY BUT I REFUSE TO ENABLE YOUR DELUSIONS

Loras: Someday, Brienne, in the very near future, you are going to come to me and beg me to plan your wedding

Brienne: I need new friends. All of you are insane.

Loras: Who else?

Brienne: Ellaria just sent me a snapchat of a sex position I don't believe is even physically possible. And that is in addition to regular pestering from your sister and grandmother. And pointedly raised eyebrows from my father and Goodwin.

Brienne: Jaime nearly saw that snapchat. Now he won't stop asking why my face is bright red.

Loras: I can picture the blush now

Brienne: EVERYONE NEEDS TO STOP BEING OBSESSED WITH MY BLUSHING.

Loras: gods, you are just adorable

Chapter Text

“She is remarkable, isn’t she?”

Selwyn Tarth was quiet, for such a large man, and managed to startle Jaime by coming up behind him where he stood outside the paddock. Brienne was inside with Goodwin and an abused horse they were determined to rehabilitate. The horse had already snapped and kicked at them several times.

“Yes. And fearless.” His own heart swelled with pride. My fearless wench.

Selwyn leaned his arms on the fence and shook his head. “Brienne has never been afraid of the things she should— wild horses, storms, jumping off cliffs into the ocean. But she is not fearless, Jaime.”

She was waving Goodwin off, leaving just Brienne and this spooked horse, pawing at the earth and snorting. Brienne became utterly still, loose and calm, whereas Jaime was all clenched muscles and nerves. For her, and because of where he thought this conversation might be going.

“Have you told her yet?”

Jaime knew what he was asking, felt the air burst out of his lungs in a surprised, nervous laugh. “How did you know?”

He simply shrugged. “She brought you here, for one. And I’ve seen the way you look at her.”

Jaime couldn’t help the sharp turn of his head, registered the small smile on the older man’s mouth. 

“I can’t say you would have been my first choice for her.” He was matter-of-fact about this, and it was a thought Jaime had himself more than once, so he couldn’t exactly blame the man. “But I listened to her talk about you for months, and I see the way she looks at you.” He clapped Jaime on the shoulder, and they turned to face one another.

“Right now, you are the only thing in this world that scares her. So you have to go first. Do you understand?”

Jaime could only nod. 

“Let me know if you need anything. And please-“ he gestured at Brienne out in the paddock, “please make sure she doesn’t do anything terribly stupid out there.”

 

 

 

“So.”

“So what, Goodwin?”

They were standing in front of a spooked horse, but he was grinning like a fourteen year old boy.

“That Lannister boy is certainly a pretty one.”

She barely managed to dart away from the horse’s teeth in time as it snapped at her chest.

“Are you serious right now?”

“What? You trying to tell me you don’t think he’s pretty?”

“I am trying to tell you I don’t think now is the best time to talk about my—“

“Your boyfriend?”

She hissed in frustration and mild terror— both at the conversation and the horse’s hoof a mere three inches from her nose. “I don’t know if he’s really my boyfriend.”

Goodwin was clucking at her in disapproval. “Now I never knew you to be an idiot, little star.”

Another kick at her chest. “Say it. Whatever it is you’re getting at, say it and get out before you get us both injured.”

“That boy has been staring at you for the past fifteen minutes like you are the sun and moon and stars of this universe. He’s your boyfriend. At the very least.” 

She determinedly does not turn around to find him. “Out.”

Goodwin was laughing at her, and she knew her face was beet red. “I mean it, Goodwin. Out.”

“You and Tansy have a nice time, little star.”

He stalked off towards the stables, and Brienne turned to face the mare in front of her. 

“Alright, Tansy. It’s just us girls now. Easy; settle down.”

The horse pawed at the ground and gave a snort. 

“At least I can trust you not to interrogate me about my love life.”

Chapter Text

It was true that Brienne didn’t need to worry about Tansy inquiring after her love life.

She should have perhaps worried a bit more about the physical threat that Tansy posed as an abused and nervous horse.

 

It had been over an hour of standing in the paddock, barely moving, trying to get Tansy adjusted to her presence, trying to get her to calm down, to no avail. Brienne could sense Jaime behind her, watching, could feel the tiny prickle on the back of her neck.

And she was getting antsy.

When she was younger, she had boundless, limitless patience for this. She could stand out, still and motionless, for hours on end. It didn't always work, and she didn't manage to rehabilitate every horse they brought into the ranch, but she could at least manage to put in the time out in the paddock without itching to do something else. And so when Goodwin had asked for her help with Tansy, saying he’d had no luck for the past two weeks, she’d agreed.

Only now that she was out here, her mind kept drifting to all the things she could be doing with Jaime, to all the places on the island she should show him, to the email that Ellaria had sent her that morning which explained why role-play was particularly beneficial for new couples. Brienne had barely managed to suppress a squeak of horror when she had opened that little gem with her father in the same room.

And so, her mind focused on the acute embarrassment of that morning, she reacted just a split second too late when Tansy kicked out at her, earning a glancing blow to her side. She stumbled back, trying to get out of range while gasping for air, as the horse ran off to the other side of the paddock.

“Brienne!”

Jaime had hopped the fence and was running towards her. She tried to slow her breathing. She needed to make sure none of her ribs were cracked, although she was fairly certain that the kick had come too low, closer to her hip.

Jaime brushed her hair back from her eyes cupped her face in his hands. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. I think. I just need to make sure my ribs aren’t cracked.”

He ducked down and started to tug up the hem of her t-shirt. She swatted his hands away, face bright red, and glanced around to see if anyone was watching. "What do you think you're doing?"

He glanced up at her in annoyance. "I was trying to check and see if your ribs were hurt. It's not like I haven't seen this before, Brienne."

She sighed. "It's not you I'm worried about." But there was no one else around, so she released his hands and nodded.

He pulled up the hem of her shirt, hissing at the bruise already forming on her pale skin, and carefully ran a finger down the side of her ribcage, tracing the curve of her bottom rib in towards her belly button, keeping his eye on the edge of the bruise. She fought not to squirm. 

“The bruise is definitely below your ribs, so there’s that at least.” He suddenly groaned. “Your dad is going to kill me. He made me promise I wouldn’t let you do anything stupid.”

“I didn’t actually do anything. That was kind of the problem. And besides, he won’t blame you for something that is clearly not your fault. It's my fault. I wasn't focused.”

Jaime looked at her like she was an idiot. “You are his little girl. His only child.”

She nodded. “So?”

“I am the first guy you’ve ever brought home, and I have a bad reputation, and we only came here to get away from press surrounding my family. If I was him, I’d look for any excuse to make me leave.”

She blinked. “Oh. I didn't really think about that." She squinted off into the distance, thinking. "But if that was the case, do you really think he would have set up the room next to mine for you to stay in? He could have easily stuck you on the other side of the house. There's plenty of room.”

Jaime shrugged. “You probably have a point. But Moriah is definitely going to give me the evil eye all through dinner tonight. And I still think I should remain on my best behavior around him, just in case.”

He moved one hand to rest against her cheek, and stroked his thumb across her lower lip slowly.

“Does this count as your best behavior?”

He smirked. “Probably not in your dad’s book. But in yours…”

She smiled shyly against his thumb. “It’s good, but I wouldn’t exactly say it’s your best…”

He shifted closer to her and murmured in her ear. “If we go inside I could probably show you something better.”

She feigned indifference at his suggestion, remarking in the most offhand tone she could muster, “You know I’m pretty sure they say that sex is a great pain reliever.”

His smile sent her stomach swooping. “Challenge accepted.”

Chapter Text

Tyrion: How’s the giantess treating you?

Jaime: stop calling her that

Tyrion: or what?

Jaime: I know where you live. 

Tyrion: Fair point. How about Amazonian princess?

Jaime: better

Tyrion: Got it. Now answer my question.

Jaime: She’s amazing.

Tyrion: You love her?

Jaime: Yes.

Jaime: Completely. Utterly.

Tyrion: Smitten, then.

Jaime: Like you didn’t know that ages ago.

Tyrion: Dear brother, I know everything.

Tyrion: And I definitely knew that.

Jaime: Fine, Mr. Know It All.

Jaime: But does she love me? What if she doesn't? 

Tyrion: If you have to ask that, you are an even bigger idiot than I thought.

Chapter Text

She was faintly embarrassed at the keening sound she made as he traced the tip of his tongue up the column of her neck, his fingers ghosting over her arms.

There was none of the harsh urgency of last time: no teeth, no frantic removal of clothing. She could tell that Jaime was careful to avoid her left hip as he pulled up her shirt and then backed up until he was sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling her to him. He leaned in to feather kisses across her stomach and up her right side, running an index finger up the hollow of her spine. She pulled him back up to her mouth and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, sighed at the sensation of her bare breasts brushing up against the flannel of his shirt.

He turned them around and guided her back onto bed, lowering her down and pulling back just far enough to press kisses to her temples, her eyelids, the tip of her nose, her dimples.

 

She didn’t even realize her eyes had fluttered closed until he stopped and she opened them to figure out why. He was hovering over her on his hands and knees with an uncharacteristically serious expression that made her weak in the knees. 

“Jaime?”

He cupped her face in his hand and stroked his thumb across her cheek.

“I love you.”

 

She blinked rapidly, thought about pinching herself.

I am going to be so pissed if it turns out Tansy kicked me in the head and this is all a dream.

“Brienne. I love you.”

This time his voice sounded a little worried, and there was the tell-tale crease between his eyebrows that bespoke concern, both of which felt reassuringly real. If she were dreaming, he would definitely not be worried. If she were dreaming, they would be making out by now. And he would be wearing way less clothing.

She reached up to smooth out the crease in his forehead with her finger. “I love you, too, Jaime.”

He smiled wide enough that his dimples made a rare appearance, so she moved her hand to the back of his head and pulled him down for a quick kiss.

“Sorry, for a second I thought that Tansy had kicked me in the head and I was hallucinating.”

He chuckled and started tickling her. “Pretty sure if this wasn’t real you would have woken up by now.”

She was laughing so hard she could barely breathe, and was kicking out at him, trying to pinch and tickle him back.

Until he accidentally bumped his knee against the tender part of her hip, causing her to hiss and go abruptly still. He looked horrified. 

“Brienne, I’m sorry. Are you okay? Do you need me to get an ice pack? or Advil? Or would a heating pad be better?”

She clapped a hand over his mouth before he could continue.

“Jaime. I will get an ice pack later.”

“Later?”

She rolled her eyes and pulled him down by a fistful of plaid, kissing him slow and thorough. When he pulled back they were both breathing hard. 

“Right. Later.”

Chapter Text

Father: Jaime, is it true that you have run off with the Tarth girl?

Jaime: We’re on vacation.

Father: Good.

Jaime: Wait. Really?

Father: It’s a miracle you found someone willing to put up with you in the first place.

Father: She is from a good family, she is smart, and a hard worker. She seems to be a good influence on you.

Jaime: I don’t actually need your permission.

Father: I can still give it.

Jaime: Thanks, then.

 

Chapter Text

The sun was making her drowsy.

She and Jaime went for a walk along the beach that afternoon, only after a while they both decided to lay down in the sand and relax. A little over a week on Tarth meant that nearly every inch of Brienne’s skin was covered in freckles and Jaime looked perfectly golden, but she hadn’t remembered to put on sunscreen before they left this afternoon and it wouldn’t be long before she was in danger of getting a sunburn. She was mentally calculating how much longer she could risk laying there without UV protection when his voice rasped out from beside her.

“Tyrion texted me this morning.” She hummed in acknowledgement. “He said that Cersei’s decided to take the twins and move to Lys.”

Her eyes popped open in surprise and she turned to get a good look at him, but his eyes were still closed and his face was still turned towards the sun. She sighed and looked back up, tracking a cloud that looked like a mushroom across the sky. “Okay. What do you want to do?”

“They’re not really mine. Not in any way that actually matters. And maybe it will be better for them—to go somewhere else. Maybe… maybe they’ll never have to find out the truth if they go someplace where people aren’t likely to put it together.” She could sense him dragging a hand over his stubbled jaw. “It’s better for them, for the kids, if they go. I know that.”

She hummed again, not wanting to agree outright but not really able to contradict him. “You should at least say goodbye to them. Did Tyrion say when they’re leaving?”

“A week from now.”

“Okay.” She started to sit up, her mind already back at the house, thinking about what needed to be packed.

“You’ll come with me, right?” She turned her head to look at him in surprise. “I know you usually visit your dad for a couple of weeks, and I don’t want you to feel like you have to leave if you don’t—“

“Jaime.” She leaned over him, one hand on either side of his torso, and waited for him to open his eyes. “I love you. If you want me to be there, I will be there. End of story.” She dropped a quick kiss to his lips and pulled back. “Besides, somebody has to hold your hand on that terrifying ferry ride back to the mainland.”

She stood and brushed the sand off her legs before holding out a hand to help him up. “Now come on, let’s get back to the house and start packing.”

 

 

 

Four hours, twenty-two minutes.

That was how long it had been since Jaime dropped her and Evie at her apartment. She shouldn’t know that. She should not be able to calculate down to the minute the last time she saw him.

It made her restless, the missing him. She had already taken a shower and put on her favorite robe and fed Evie. She made a cup of tea that she didn’t even want just to have something to do with her hands. When she found herself casting a critical eye at the kitchen counters and contemplating a complete kitchen-cleaning session she let out a frustrated groan.

Get a hold of yourself.

It isn’t really late enough for her to go to bed but she’s thinking about doing it anyway. She and Jaime have been sleeping in the same bed for what, ten days now? Can she even sleep well without him?

In the name of the Seven, you are a grown woman not a starry-eyed maiden.

She dumped her tepid tea down the sink and marched towards the bedroom like determination and stubbornness could solve whatever sentimental gnarl was forming in her chest, and had just reached the threshold when there was a knock at the door. Her mind immediately went to Jaime and it was just another reason to mentally pinch herself. Although, logically, he’s really the only one who would show up at her place at this time of night, unannounced.

 

He had his arms wrapped around her before she even had the door fully opened, one arm like a vise around her waist and the other across her shoulders, a hand burrowing into her hair.

“Gods I missed you.”

She inhaled the faint scent of her own shower gel from his skin and smiled. “It’s only been four hours and twenty-nine or so minutes.”

He pulled back with a delighted grin on his face. “You’ve been counting.”

She burrowed her face back into his neck and laughed. “I don’t know who I hate more right now. You for being so obviously pleased with yourself or me for being so sappy.”

“Can I stay? My apartment feels empty without you.”

“Do you seriously think I will let you leave now that you’re here?”

“Not really, but I just like to make you say it.”

 

 

 

It was the early hours of the morning, when the soft dawn light had just started to creep in past the curtains in her bedroom when he asked.

“Brienne?”

“Yes?”

“What do you think about moving in? With me?”

She rolled over to face him, surprised. “Are you being serious? We’ve barely been dating for two weeks.”

“But we’ve known one another for almost a year now. We spent almost all of those two weeks living together at your dad’s house. I couldn’t bear to spend last night without you, and I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon.”

She continued to consider it, chewing at her lip. After a minute, Jaime started fidgeting. “Really, wench, if you don’t want to you can just say no…”

All of a sudden the hurt in his eyes snapped into focus and she felt horrible. “No, Jaime. No, that’s not it.” She wiggled closer to him and rested a hand on his chest. “I was just over-thinking when I should have given you an answer. You are not my hesitation. Not really. I mean, we would need to establish some ground-rules about working, because you having 24/7 access to your editor could be problematic. I deserve time off.”

“You’ve got it. Ground-rules. Built in time off. We can have lawyers draw them up if you like. It would be like a work pre-nup or something. What else?”

“Are you even allowed to have cats in your building?”

“Yes. Mrs. Jenkinson down the hall has two.” She was back to biting her lip again. “Wench, what is it? Spit it out.”

“It’s going to sound really stupid.”

“Brienne. Nothing you say is stupid to me because I’m completely besotted with you and lack objectivity. Or so Tyrion says.”

She rewarded him with a peck on the tip of his nose. “It’s just…have you ever realized that none of the windows in your apartment really open?”

“What? They open.”

“Barely. They all have safety guards on them so you can’t open them more than three inches.”

“And you don’t like that.”

“It feels a little too much like being trapped. And what if I want fresh air?”

“This is King’s Landing, there isn’t too much of that to go around.”

She sighed. “See, I told you it would sound silly.”

“Are you kidding? I love this. I had no idea you were so particular about windows and fresh air. I like it. I can work with this.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Look, I could move here. Or we could find a new place together. Or, solution: I could move in here until we find a new place together. That way we can make sure the windows open and we can each have our own office. And a shower for two.” He was smiling so widely his dimples were out and the force of it was almost blinding.

Brienne wondered briefly if she would ever be able to say to no to him when he smiled like that.“Ok. Let’s do it.”

“Really?”

“Really.”