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Measure in Love

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By 9 a.m. Brienne Tarth's head is already pounding and she hasn't even made it to the office, thanks to the subway being delayed in Flea Bottom for a medical emergency. On top of that, she'd been trapped in a car with one of the more vocal R'hllor priestesses shouting the way of the one true god.

Brienne isn’t entirely sure if there are any true gods, much less who they'd be, but she is pretty certain that any benevolent deity wouldn't command their priests to shout at tired commuters who hadn't had enough coffee yet.

Suddenly the long weekend for the Feast of the Father didn't seem nearly long enough.

At least, she thinks, as she makes her way around the tourists crowding the base of the stairs up Aegon's High Hill, the construction outside her office was supposed to be finished. While she’s still mourning the loss of her view of Blackwater Bay, at least she won’t have to put up with any more jackhammers.

"Morning, Pod," she greets her assistant, who somehow is already at his desk.

She'd never managed to beat him to the office, despite being one of the earliest arrivals. It was unnerving, really, how he seemed to anticipate her schedule, even when it changed, but he is a promising employee so as far as she’s concerned; there are more pressing things to worry about.

For a while she'd thought he might be sleeping on the couch in the break room, but security had assured her that he did actually leave the building at night.

Flipping through the stack of files he'd handed her, Brienne looks up and winces.

The last she'd seen of the apartment building, the unit directly across from her had been builder's white. Apparently the new owner (or, given the cost of the units, whoever he hired) had been busy over the weekend, because she was looking to a living room painted a vibrant shade of red - so red she could practically see the color reflected in her own space.

The only change came from the furniture, upholstered in heavy gold brocade and what was truly the most ostentatious mirror Brienne had ever laid eyes on. Shaped like a lion's head, it bounced a reflection all the way to her office ceiling.

Today is going to be a very long day.

By the time lunch rolls around, Brienne's headache has eased. Rolling her shoulders, she saves the latest round of client reports and stretches her arms over her head.

And freezes.

She wasn’t really expecting to see anyone in the apartment, given it’s the middle of a workday, but at some point the occupant had arrived and flung himself down on the (incredibly ostentatious) sofa.

And apparently forgotten his clothing.

She doesn’t think he can see her - he appears to be sleeping - but Brienne can still feel a blush starting to creep up her neck into her face.

Instinctively she ducks her head down behind her largest monitor. Her plans for lunch vanish as she contemplates ways to open the door that would prevent Pod from seeing the current view. Gritting her teeth, she wills away the rush of heat that sweeps through her involuntarily at the sight across the way.

This is not good. This is very not good.

She is already the only woman at the company, the last thing she needs is a reputation for gawking at nude men. Internet security is already a boys club, she has fought long and hard to get the modicum of respect she commands. Mostly by doing her level best to disguise any small hint of femininity she might possess.

Not that she is gawking. Or looking, even, not on purpose. Although glancing around the side of her computer, the tanned blond man across the way is clearly in extremely good shape. He fits rather well with the golden furniture, actually, half a golden god himself.

When Brienne has seen photos of naked men she’s usually found herself thinking they look faintly ridiculous - honestly, who decided putting genitalia on the outside of the body where it was vulnerable was a good idea? - but this man is making her reconsider her stance.

Still.

Brienne slumps even more in her chair, trying to duck behind the desk as much as she can - which at her height admittedly isn’t very much.

Being a computer nerd has its perks, she reflects. She can probably stay here a very long time without feeling like she has to move. She might even have a granola bar stashed in the drawer.

Naked Man, as she mentally dubs him, was probably tired from moving and hadn't noticed the proximity of the buildings. He’s just moved in, after all. Hopefully he'll wake up and put some clothing on before she needs to look up again.

Yes, that’s exactly what will happen, she decides, willing the redness in her face to recede and doing her best to concentrate on checking her team’s work for the Sunspear account.

At two, she chances a glance upwards, to see that Naked Man is no longer sleeping. He’s talking on the phone, pacing around the floor gesturing wildly. He is, she notes, still naked. In the sunlight, his hair is even closer to the shade of gold of the room.

At three, he’s perched in one of the chairs, engrossed in a tablet. He has, Brienne notices before she jerks her head back to her screen, very pronounced abs. Definitely a six pack. Possibly an eight pack.

At four, he’s shuffling absently through a stack of papers. His hands are large, with long fingers. The muscles in his forearms flex rather pleasingly.

At five, Brienne gets distracted by reviewing a new report from her team - the work is very good, but the summary is far too detailed to send to a client, and it’s seven before she pulls herself out of the revisions. She’s so distracted that she forgets to check the window before standing up and starting a series of stretches designed to correct the poor posture that comes from typing too much.

She’s halfway through trying to work out the tightness in her back when she looks up and realizes that the man across the way is standing in the window staring directly her way.

Her face has to be the same color as his walls, Brienne knows, as she freezes in place. She can see, well, everything.

She doesn’t have much (any) basis for comparison, but it seems like a very nice everything.

And he can see her. He has to see her, there is no way to miss a six foot plus blonde woman standing in an otherwise empty office.

She looks ridiculous like this, she’s sure, flat chest thrust forward, arms extended behind her, showing off how straight and board-like her figure is.

And now he is seeing her not moving. Staring. Like some sort of creep.

The man grins.

Brienne flees.

Chapter Text

Brienne knows she looks ridiculous hovering outside the door to her own office. She is a grown woman, it’s her space, and it’s just nudity. Most adults have seen plenty of people naked; acting the way she is only reminds her of her depressing naivete.

But the last thing she wants to do is go in there. Even if the man across the street is clearly less modest than she is, she cringes on his behalf.  She doesn’t want to shame him to anyone else and yet ...

Well. Men were naked in locker rooms and things all the time, right? Even she had managed to get used to changing rooms at the pool, and surely it has to be less embarrassing than having someone of the opposite sex staring at you and all your flaws.

Not that he has any flaws, from what Brienne could see. But then he probably doesn’t want someone who looks like her seeing him anyway - she knows what she looks like, too tall, no curves to speak of, features too large and mismatched for her face. She’s seen the disgusted looks men give her if she dares to let any interest show.

She’s not the person even the most desperate of men want gawking at them.

"So ... you want me to check your office?" Pod sounds perplexed. “That’s empty. And has been since you left.”

She doesn’t blame him. 

"Not my office, the apartment across the way. Just ... see if anyone is home." 

Hopefully he'll be at work. She can clear her desk by five, do anything else through VPN, and certainly after a few days it will be distant enough a memory that she can look at her office door without feeling her face go hot and red with secondhand embarrassment. 

"Is...are you sure everything is okay, Miss Tarth?"

"Yes, yes. It's just the new apartments. It’s rather awkward to look right into someone's home, isn't it?"

Pod doesn’t look convinced, but shrugs as he moves towards the door.

"I guess? I'm sure they won't even notice, and it's just a liv-"

Pod’s voice trails off into a strangled squeak and he backs out of her office so quickly he trips over his own feet and goes sprawling on the floor in a pile of flailing limbs. 

Brienne hauls him to his feet and pats him on the back, feeling guilty for having drawn another person into this absurd predicament. 

“Right. I’m going to need you to call Facilities.”

Facilities is an overstatement, really. It’s one young man, Gendry Waters, who does everything from assembling desks to rotating the office plants.  Brienne has always liked Gendry, and one of the reasons for it is that he is utterly unflappable. He barely gives the Naked Man across the way a glance before turning back and listening to her request.

“I don’t understand, why is the desk bolted down?”

“Someone walked out with one when they got fired, I guess. They’re like 10 grand, I guess, so…” he scratches the back of his neck. “Plus there’s like, wires and things? For internet? I think?”

He isn’t even glancing out the window, where the still-naked blond is now doing pushups. Or something. She’s trying very hard not to look.

They are definitely pushups.

"How do you walk out  with - you know what. Never mind.” Brienne takes a breath. Improbably, office theft is not the concern she needs to be focusing on right now. Deep, calming breaths. “How long would it take to get blinds installed?”

“Can’t do that either. Building code. Mr. Baratheon wants all the offices to look uniform from the outside.”

Of course. Stannis Baratheon, building proprietor who rules all the offices with an iron fist. More than one company has been evicted for not following his stringent requirements.

Brienne pinches the bridge of her nose. She usually gets along with Stannis better than most, given their shared appreciation of order and regulation, but she’s suddenly starting to see why he grates on most people.

“Gendry, please.” It’s dangerously close to pleading, something she hasn’t done since she was a child.

“Sorry, man.”  He does look apologetic. “But he fired the last guy who broke the rules and I really need this job.”

Brienne waves him off, sighing with envy as he leaves the office for the basement, where he is certainly not having to look at naked people with bodies that should be on a billboard somewhere.

He’s doing squats now, all the muscles in his (nicely round) rear and thighs flexing with each movement. 

He even looks good doing tricep dips, which is patently unfair because nobody looks good or dignified doing tricep dips. 

Brienne decides to cancel the usual daily meeting to buy herself more time to figure out how to handle this situation. She’s already sworn Pod to secrecy, not that she thought he’d say anything. 

She most certainly doesn’t think any lewd or inappropriate thoughts when he starts doing a set of bridges, hips thrusting upward in steady rhythm. 

Thankfully he finishes his workout routine shortly after, while Brienne stares vacantly at the report she’s meant to be editing for a while before sternly reminding herself that she has no business getting impossible fantasies stuck in her mind.

She really needs to stop looking up. She doesn’t think he’s seen her, although she’s caught sight of him glancing her way. 

Probably wondering what’s wrong with her, thinking she’s some kind of perv who enjoys spying on people. Mocking her because he knows this is as close as she’ll ever get to a beautiful, naked man. If he even realizes she’s a woman, that is.  Many people don’t at first. 

She manages to keep her focus for most of the afternoon, although she can’t help catching another glimpse of him when she’s gathering her things to leave. He’s slouched in a chair this time, legs spread the way so many men seem to think is required for relaxation, but it’s positively obscene without clothing. He’s staring at the TV, but something catches his attention and he gives her a smirk and a lazy nod as she does her best to leave as quickly as is possible while still maintaining some semblance of dignity.

This summer is shaping up to be the absolute worst.

Chapter Text

After a few weeks, Brienne has mostly settled into a routine, such as it is, despite the fact that Naked Man does not seem to have an office or leave his apartment for any substantial period of time.  Eight hours a day, five days a week she struggles to keep her attention on her work while a man whose photo could be in the dictionary under “ideal male specimen” peacocks about in the buff.

She’s tried her best to improve the situation, but the makeshift drapes made out of her office blanket, the folding screen she’d brought from home and the large ficus she’d hauled in from the hallway had all been removed overnight, replaced with stern notes from Stannis informing her that no large decorative items were to be visible in the windows. She’s not sure how he can even tell, but she’s known Stannis long enough to know this is a battle she isn’t going to win.

He’d also confiscated the screen. She’s still pretty bitter about that, actually, her father had carefully shipped it from Yi Ti on one of his trips and it has held a place of pride in her bedroom for years. 

She’s even tried going over to the man’s building, thinking she could politely ask him to consider some curtains, but she hadn’t been able to get past the doorman. Nor would they give her an apartment number or allow her to leave a note. 

Though, admittedly, a strange woman asking for the blond man who lives on the 8th floor, fluffy hair, quite fit, reasonably tall, is exactly the sort of thing that a security company would find suspicious. She leaves before they call the Gold Cloaks.

She even sucks up her pride and asks her father for advice during their weekly chat. He just roars with laughter, and says men are just more relaxed about these things before launching into a story about an old Army buddy who had an exhibitionist streak even in the middle of a war zone.Brienne thinks Naked Man must work remotely, because there have been a few times she’s caught a glimpse of a shirt out of the corner of her eye, only to have her hopes dashed by a complete and total lack of pants. Conference calls, she thinks, Skype maybe. 

Any normal person would look absolutely ridiculous sitting around in a dress shirt and tie without pants, but somehow he looks like he should be on the cover of a magazine. Probably the kind that’s sold with a brown paper cover and stored behind the counter.

So she spends her days hunched behind a monitor, slinking in and out of her office with her eyes firmly fixed on the floor. 

It’s starting to take a toll - she misses being able to stretch, the breaks she’d take to do a bit of yoga between tasks. She can feel the effect in the tightness in her shoulders and the way her neck aches.

But it helps her avoid the cocky grin and jaunty wave he gives if he happens to look up and see her looking anywhere in his direction.

His teeth are perfect too. It’s infuriating.

It also spares them both the embarrassment of each other’s gaze - or her, at least, since it appears her neighbor has no capacity for such an emotion. Most of her job doesn’t require meeting with clients, just reviewing the team’s work and typing up reports, so at least she doesn’t have to worry about finding a space to bring visitors. 

It’s mind-numbing enough to make her regret moving into management, no matter how good the salary is or how much she needs it, and she misses being able to take time to get up from her desk and think about something other than work. The arrival of Naked Man, she’s forced to admit, is probably the most interesting thing to happen in her office in months.

The morning standups with her team have become extremely awkward, but that’s actually one of the few benefits. Some of her team have the tendency to go on at length, even though the entire point of a standup is to be so uncomfortable you want it over with quickly, but Naked Man seems to have done the trick. 

They’ve all started to be on time, too, since the last two in the door are the ones who get stuck standing in a position that faces the window.

(She always stands facing the window, but it’s not because she wants to look. She is just being considerate of her team. As uncomfortable as she is, a straight man must feel even more awkward. Or she assumes, not being one.)

But she’s adjusting and it’s fine - she’s adapted to far worse situations and she’ll get through this too, somehow. At some point, one must become immune to embarrassment, right?  It’s already starting to feel normal.

So naturally that’s when everything goes to hell.

Chapter Text

Brienne has very deliberately not informed her boss about the situation. She’s been friends with Renly Baratheon for enough time to know that he would delight in teasing her about how flustered everything makes her. She knows he’d find out eventually, and she’s steeled herself for the inevitable, but what she hadn’t expected was that he’d bring friends.

She’d only been out of her office for as long as it takes to visit the ladies’ room and get a cup of tea. She has no idea how they acted so quickly.

Pod is still apologizing behind her when she opens the door to find Renly at her desk, feet propped up, his boyfriend Loras Tyrell leaning on the back of the chair, both riveted by the view. Two women, a brunette and a redhead, who look vaguely familiar, are sat in the chairs kept for meetings with clients. 

Naked Man is lounging in a chair, one knee propped up, scribbling something on a legal pad. The position, thankfully, blocks some of the view, although the curve of his thigh and ass on the seat seem no less obscene. Brienne is struck by the sudden and inappropriate thought that she’d like to sink her teeth into the muscle along his hip.

He seems entirely unaware of his increasingly large audience. 

The women, Brienne thinks, work in one of the other offices in the tower, two of the perfectly coiffed, stylish crew that flock around the elevators leaving clouds of flowery perfume in their wake. There’s a fashion studio up there, she knows, and several marketing firms, all of which seem to attract a certain type.

She tugs at the edge of her tee shirt, suddenly wishing it came down further over her jeans, better to disguise the thickness of her thighs. 

“Brienne, why didn’t you tell me your view had been upgraded so nicely.” Renly is positively purring, while Loras waggles his eyebrows at her.

“Because it hasn’t.” She sets her tea on the desk. “May I ask why my office is suddenly crowded?”

“Oh, you haven’t met my sister,” Loras says, nodding vaguely toward the women. 

The brunette bounces up, nearly providing the room with another show as her short skirt rides up. Even in heels she hardly comes up to Brienne’s shoulder, though she greets Brienne with a smile that seems friendly enough.

“Margaery,” the woman says.  “Loras has told me so much about you, I’m glad we can finally meet.”

Brienne doubts that Loras has done any such thing, considering she barely knows him, despite the fact that he’s been dating her best friend for nearly six years. But she smiles politely as Margaery introduces the redhead as Sansa Stark, a colleague from Tyrell Studios, though the girl barely peeks up from behind her hand, where she is blushing a delicate shade of pink. 

Brienne idly wonders how she’s so lucky, as her own blushes seem to come only in shades of red and blotchy.

“I cannot believe you’ve dragged me into this,” Sansa says. She looks very young. “I did not need to see that much of Jaime.” She keeps peeking out from behind her hand though, so she’s clearly not as scandalized as she seems.

And Naked Man has a name, apparently.

“Jaime?” Brienne asks, before she can stop herself.  

She wishes she had as three heads swivel in her direction.

“Tell me you don’t recognize Jaime Lannister,” Renly says. “Most eligible bachelor in Westeros.”

“Unless you buy the rumor that he’s fucking his sister,” Loras drawls, and he and Margaery shudder in unison.

“How on earth would I know that? How do you know that?”

“Gossip mags, darling. Plus Marg was nanny for his nephew,” Renly says, toying with the office supplies on her desk. 

“Au pair, darling,” Margaery corrects, before making a face. “God, he was a terrible child. Sansa took care of him too.” 

“The worst,” Sansa confirms. A shadow passes over her face, but it’s gone quickly. 

“Not surprising, given who his father is,” Renly mutters.

Robert, Loras mouths from behind him. Renly likes to pretend his older brother doesn’t exist, Brienne knows, and she hadn’t realized he had a wife or children.

“Pity Uncle Jaime didn’t come around more.” Margaery leers at the window. “Would have made it worth it. God, he’s impressive.”

“He is quite well … equipped,” Renly side-eyes Brienne as he speaks, looking at least marginally guilty for the circus he’s dragged into her space. “I’m surprised you haven’t put blackout curtains up by now, Brie.”

“Apparently they are against your brother’s rules.” She knocks Renly’s feet off the desk. “This situation is bad enough without you turning it into a peep show.”

“Well, you can’t argue it’s not a better view than Blackwater Bay,” Loras says.

“I liked the view of the Bay.” She’s not lying. Sure, the brackish water filled with container ships and Navy vessels isn’t anything like the clear blue waters of home, but it’s something. “Can you please leave? I do have work to do.”

Sansa has the grace to look embarrassed, at least, while Renly and the two Tyrells grin unabashedly at her. When Sansa unfolds herself from her chair, she’s tall enough to come past Brienne’s shoulder, though her willowy form makes her look lithe and delicate, even in a loose blouse and trousers with legs so wide Brienne’s surprised she doesn’t trip over them. 

“We’ll be back. Lunch hour only,” Renly promises over his shoulder, shutting the door before she can respond.

He means it, Brienne finds, and so she finds herself in an unexpected quest to find every lunch spot in the neighborhood while her office is taken over by the twittering quartet. Once in a while they drag other women down from upstairs, and the occasional man. They’ve told her she’s welcome to stay, but she can’t bring herself to gawk so openly at someone. 

Lannister doesn’t seem to mind, as he either ignores them or waves cheerily.

Brienne is also fairly sure that they don’t need her invading their gatherings. They’re all very polite, but she feels more awkward than ever surrounded by such effortlessly beautiful people. And she can’t help wondering what pitying things they would say about her behind her back. Intruding in her own office, she thinks sourly.

The whole thing has interrupted her predictable schedule and left her feeling distinctly off-kilter. She’s been called boring more than once, but Brienne likes having a routine. She likes the consistency of it, the rise and fall of everyday life like the tides of the ocean - simple, predictable, ever constant. 

She likes knowing that she will get up, go for a run around her neighborhood, passing a group of children waiting for the school bus on her way up to the Dragon Pit. Knows that she’ll get back in time for a quick breakfast before catching the train, which will inevitably be delayed in Flea Bottom at least once a week. Knowing that what happens during her work day will change often, but that she’ll spend most of it in her office, stopping to eat her packed lunch (sandwich, fruit, raw vegetables with hummus and a salad) at one and stay past five because she’ll get so absorbed in a problem she won’t realize time has passed.

She knows that she’ll talk Sam Tarly down from an anxiety attack at least twice a week, that Pod will want her to triple check things she already knows he’s done correctly, that Stannis will send no fewer than five building-wide emails with reminders about rules and security procedures. 

That three of her evenings will be spent at Barristan Selmy’s boxing gym, which looks close to being condemned despite being one of the best places to train in the city, another three spent doing open-water swims in the bay. That she’ll come home for a simple dinner (grabbed on the way) and catch up on reading or watching documentaries before a reasonable bedtime.

It’s not the adventure she dreamed of as a girl, but then who gets that kind of life? Her job is challenging and far from mindless. And even if she can’t box competitively, she gets enough of a physical challenge at the gym.  This is no longer the Targarean era and childhood dreams of being a knight are completely useless in this day and age.

But this change - the smirks from Lannister, the way he flaunts his body, her fleeing her office at lunch, waiting awkwardly while Renly and company vacate her office: it’s all tilting her off her axis. She’s overslept several times, forgot to call her father last weekend, and nearly swam right into the path of a ship on Monday.

On top of all that, the news has leaked out to the rest of the office.

There are plenty of sly remarks thrown around by the men in the rest of the company, though most have the grace to do so out of her earshot. But she’d overheard Allister Thorne laughing with Janos Slynt as they suggested that it was the only man she’d ever see naked, certainly the only one that good looking.

They aren’t wrong, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less, even when Pod and Sam stepped up to defend her, and Allister came in the next day with a black eye, the same morning Jon Snow had coincidentally bruised his knuckles. 

Her team has been quite decent about the whole thing, really, despite being brand new. They’d only come on board when Kingsguard acquired the Night’s Watch, a small security startup from the North.  Brienne suspects she wouldn’t have made manager if it weren’t for that. No matter how good she is, she knows the rest of the office wouldn’t answer to a woman. 

But her new team all seem like good guys, even if they get flustered any time they glance near the window. 

The only escape she gets is at the gym. Nobody there knows where she works, or cares, and she can spend hours taking her frustrations out on the punching bags. A few of them will even spar with her once in a while.

So when Jaime Lannister walks in the door, she wants to scream. 

Chapter Text

Brienne can feel Lannister watching her as she warms up, resolutely not allowing herself to look his way. She feels it as she works on the punching bags, feels it right up until the moment she steps into the ring to spar with Sandor Clegane.

They don’t fight often - he’s one of the few men at the gym that can actually beat her and they both have a competitive streak that tends to lead to more injuries than is ideal. But for all his snarling, Clegane is a decent sort. He’s never once mocked her for her appearance and he’s actually taller than she is.  And he never holds back because she’s a woman.

It also means she can’t think about anything else, not if she wants to avoid having her nose broken for the fourth time. 

So it takes her by surprise, as she’s leaning on the ropes and using her teeth to tear the tape from her gloves, to hear a low voice right behind her.

“I know you from somewhere.”

Gods, even his voice is perfect.

“Do you now?” Brienne scowls at him, the adrenaline high from the fight bleeding out of her at the sight of his now-familiar torso, which is even more impressively muscled at close range. He’s wearing shorts, at least. It doesn’t help as much as she’d like.

“No, really, where did we meet?” 

He’s been sending teasing grins and waves at her for weeks, but of course he doesn’t recognize her. And why should he? For men like him, she’s either invisible or an object of ridicule.

Given the choice, she prefers invisible.

“We haven’t.”

It’s when she pulls herself up to her full height that recognition flashes in his eyes.

“It’s you! The office spy. My god, you really are a woman. I wasn’t sure.”

“I am not spying,” Brienne says, feeling her cheeks start to flame. 

“I didn’t say I minded .” 

“I am simply going about my day,” she continues. “You’re the one who doesn’t seem familiar with the concept of curtains.”

He throws his arms out, grinning proudly. 

“Do I need them? You must admit, I do improve the scenery.” He tilts his head. “Assuming you like men. Do you? Or is it women? Horses, maybe?”

“Yes, because every ugly woman in the world must be a lesbian,” she snaps back. “Heaven forbid men might have to lower themselves.”

“So, you’re not a lesbian, then. You could get curtains too, you know, if I offend you so much.” He squints again. “My god, you’re strong. You look like one of those old Andal warrior wenches. The kind that served their husbands beer and then followed them onto the battlefield.”

“I would love to get curtains but office buildings have codes, you see, and …” Brienne stops herself. Why is she explaining this to him? She’s done nothing wrong. “I am behaving in a socially acceptable manner, you are the one who is flaunting manners and strolling around in the nude where half the world can see you.”

“I’m not in the habit of inviting the entire world into my apartment, wench.” 

“Then once again I suggest drapes. I’m sure you could even find them in that hideous red.”

Lannister yelps at that. “Excuse me, Lannister red is a distinguished color.”

Brienne hums, deciding now is a good time to escape to the locker room. He follows, matching her stride through the hallway easily. He’s almost as tall as she is, she realizes. 

“I’m Jaime, by the way. Jaime Lannister.” 

He holds out his hand and her default politeness has her taking it before realizing that it’s probably a mistake.

“Brienne Tarth.”

Instead of shaking her hand, he pulls it towards him, brushing a kiss on the tape covering her knuckles, like he’s some kind of knight in a poem. 

She yanks it back and, failing to come up with a witty retort, beats a hasty retreat into the women’s room. Where she stays for almost an hour, until she’s certain he won’t be waiting before slinking home, ashamed of her own cowardice.

Chapter Text

Brienne has mostly forgotten about her bout with Clegane by the time lunch rolls around, so she’s completely shocked when Margaery and Sansa take one look at her and shriek, grabbing her arms and pulling her back into her office before slamming the door.

She probably weighs more than the two of them put together, but surprise makes her pliable and before she knows it she’s shoved in a chair with both women fretting at her side.

“What happened? Are you okay? Do you need a place to stay?” Margaery fires questions at her in rapid succession.

“Renly, get ice,” Sansa orders, taking one of Brienne’s hands in hers. “Is this the first time he’s done this to you?”

It isn’t until she lifts her hand to brush the edge of the bruise on Brienne’s cheek that the pieces click together. 

“Oh, no. I’m not…” she takes a deep breath. She’s walked around with so many injuries it looks like she’s just fought a bear, but she’s never had anyone show this kind of concern before. It’s oddly touching and she finds herself swallowing around a lump in her throat.

“I’m a boxer,” Brienne continues. “Or, well, I was. I was sparring at the gym last night, that’s all.”

Margaery presses one hand to her chest in relief, but Sansa just grips her palm even tighter, eyes searching Brienne’s face.

“You don’t have to be ashamed,” Sansa says. “It can happen to any woman. You don’t even have to give details, I just want to be sure you’re okay.”

Brienne is fairly certain she’s never been referred to as similar to other women in her life. Certainly not in terms of being vulnerable. But something in Sansa’s eyes keeps her from snapping back a retort about her capability to defend herself.

“I promise. Entirely consensual injuries.” She squeezes Sansa’s hand. 

By the time Renly comes back with the ice, Sansa is leaning against the side of the chair and Margery has shifted her focus from Lannister - still as nude as ever across the way, clearly their conversation made no difference - to Brienne. 

“Boxing? That’s hardcore,” she says. “But I mean, it must hurt?”

Brienne shrugs. “Most things do.” 

Margaery seems to sense that she’s about to try to leave and presses her hand against her shoulder. “Oh, please stay today.  We have Pentoshi takeout.”

She seems genuine enough. But then so have all the pretty girls that have played at friendship, coaxing secrets and feelings out of her only to turn them into weapons once her back is turned. 

“Oh yes,” Sansa says. She smiles sweetly. “We shouldn’t be chasing you out of your own office - and you know, I don’t even know what you do here?” 

That’s safe enough ground, and Brienne does her best to describe what internet security entails and how they test systems. She’s not entirely sure Margaery follows - or that she’s even listening instead of just watching Lannister through the window - but Sansa actually seems interested. 

“So, did Renly teach you?” she asks.

Renly laughs so hard he starts choking on a dumpling and Loras has to pound him on the back. 

“I taught him , when were in high school. And later I hacked into the supposedly secure system he built for the Bank of Bravos.”

"I could have had you arrested for that,” Renly says.

“You paid me to do it,” Brienne reminds him.

“Oh, right.”

 “Anyway, I wasn’t going to steal anything. And I did try to tell them first, I only broke in after they refused to fix the problem and kept telling people their accounts were safe.”

“My dad was so mad about that,” Sansa says. “Took all our money and moved it to the credit union in White Harbor. Said he won’t do business with any place that lies to their patrons.”

Brienne nods approvingly.

“Anyway, I’d pointed out the security hole too, but they wouldn’t listen until it came from someone outside,” Renly said. “So I figured why not start a consulting firm - you get paid more and they actually listen to you. And it was either hire Brienne or have her compete with me.”

“And he got to move back to Kings Landing,” Loras says. “There’s only so much phone sex you can take before you start worrying the relationship’s going to crumble.”

It’s enough to break the ice, and Brienne finds herself actually enjoying the hour. Although it’s somewhat ruined after they leave, as Lannister grins cheekily at her. He’s been waving and smirking more than usual all morning.

He even scrawls “HI WENCH” on a piece of paper and holds it up to the window. 

His handwriting is atrocious and she’s pettily pleased that something about him is less than perfect.

That lunch apparently encourages Margaery and Sansa, because they now insist on her joining them at least once a week. She learns that they, along with Loras, work at Tyrell Studios, the fashion company her grandmother made into a global success.

Brienne has to admit her own biases when she finds herself surprised that they aren’t the vapid, mindless sort she’d assumed. Margaery is fiercely passionate about politics and Sansa knows nearly as much about sports as Brienne and Renly.

“Four brothers and a tomboy sister,” she explains cheerfully. “It was self-preservation.”

It’s …nice almost, and even after a few weeks they haven’t started making any digs at her appearance.  Although Margaery has tried to sneak her favorite hoodie out of the office and dispose of it more than once - “It’s so frayed there aren’t even cuffs or a hem anymore, Brienne, does that even count as a functional top?” - she’s managed to rescue it every time. 

It almost starts to feel like a new routine, one that’s a little louder and more crowded, but she’s beginning to accept that maybe this time, it’s all free of hidden motives.

She just wishes she could say the same for the gym.

Chapter Text

Brienne has prayed that Lannister’s appearance at Selmy’s was a fluke. He seems like the kind of rich snob that would want to go to some place with state of the art facilities and a spa, and Barristan only buys new equipment when it would be a safety hazard not to. Maybe he just stopped in because his gym was replacing their marble lockers or heated towel racks or whatever else rich people throw money away on.

But he keeps showing up, night after night, and what’s worse is that he seems to enjoy needling her every chance he gets. 

He pops up behind her as she’s leaving the ring to offer commentary on her performance. He lounges against the wall and shouts advice while she’s working on the bags, sings and shouts random numbers to trip her up while she’s counting reps with the weights. 

He even tried to follow her into the changing rooms once, but Jorah Mormont had brought his niece with him that day and honestly Brienne has never seen a grown man cower in front a 15-year-old before.

She likes to think she’s above such things, but she can’t deny finding a certain enjoyment in the way Lyanna had thoroughly shamed Jaime into muttering an apology before fleeing into the night without even bothering to change. 

She’s thought about going to the gym in the morning instead, but the thought of giving up even more of her routine because of this man makes her grit her teeth and commit to ignoring him as much as possible.

Which isn’t very much.

“Have you tried sword fighting?” he asks her one night. “You seem like the sort of person who should have a sword.” 

“No. Always wanted to,” she admits before remembering to whom she’s talking and all the reasons she shouldn’t encourage him.

Lannister’s face lights up. “Me too! I wanted to be a knight.” 

She bites her tongue before she can say that she did, too.

“There was a lady knight, wasn’t there?” Silence means nothing in the face of the unstoppable force that is Jaime Lannister’s desire to speak. Constantly, it seems. “She was supposed to be very tall. Ancestor of yours?”

“Yes, actually,” she says, hoping to throw him off guard.

His grin grows even wider. “Did you dress up as her when you were a kid? Please tell me you did.”

Her blush is enough of an answer and he keeps needling her about it for the rest of her workout.

“Oathkeeper,” he says out of nowhere another day, as he lifts weights beside her. “That was the lady ser’s sword.”

“Yes.”

“It was supposed to be Valyrian steel, but nobody’s actually found it. I don’t think it exists.”

“Of course it exists,” she says before she can stop herself, annoyed on her ancestor’s behalf. 

“A Valyrian steel sword with a gold lion hilt and rubies?” he says, and at least he knows his history. “That seems excessive. I can’t imagine any ancestor of yours would be so frivolous.”

“Maybe someone gave it to her.”

“Oh yes, because people just wander around handing out Valyrian steel swords.”

Against her better judgement, she spends the rest of the night arguing about it with him instead of disengaging like she should. He looks entirely too satisfied by having gotten under her skin.

“We should fight,” Lannister says the following week.

“No.”

“I mean, I understand that you don’t want to get beat, you have quite the reputation around here. But don’t you want a challenge?”

Oh god, he’s been asking about her? The guys will never let that one go.

“No.”

“Liar. You fight Clegane all the time and he beats you at least half of them.”

“Then it looks like I’m already challenged, doesn’t it.”

“But not like you would be with me.” He starts hopping around on the mats near the bags, throwing punches at the air. 

Brienne snorts. “I’ve fought plenty of men like you before. And I’ve won every time.”

“Ah, but there are no men like me. Only me.”

“Thank the seven,” Brienne mutters, stepping around him to start doing crunches. 

“I mean, we have seen so much of each other.” Lannister kneels on her feet, propping his arms up on her knees. “It’s about time we get up close and personal.”

“I’ve seen so much of you, you mean.” Every time she sits up, she’s close enough to see the flecks of gold in his green eyes. They almost match his hair.

“Well, you could always even the score.”

“I’ll pass.”

“I mean, you don’t even have to strip down, really. Just buy something that fits, I swear I could fit another one of you inside these sweats.” 

He tugs at the leg of her pants and she slaps his hand away as she pulls herself up, focusing on pulling her stomach back towards her spine, maintaining good form no matter how mad she is.

“How about we even the score by having you put some clothes on.”

Lannister scoffs. “I will not be constrained in my own apartment.”

Finished with her workout, Brienne neatly dislodges him as she stands up. “I am not going to fight you. I don’t fight people who don’t respect others.”

“You’ll change your mind,” he shouts as she makes her way down the hall.

Given the utter chaos he’s managed to insert into the rest of her life, she has the sinking suspicion he’s right. 

 

Chapter Text

Brienne resolves not to let Lannister get to her, and starts resuming her usual exercise breaks, pausing every few hours to do a plank and try to ease the ache in her back. 

Unfortunately, he seems to take it as some sort of challenge, mirroring her across the way. Of course he tries to outdo her every time, challenge clearly written on his face. She finds herself holding a plank for an absurd amount of time, gaze locked with his in defiance, muscles trembling as she wills herself to keep going.

He finally breaks first, dropping abruptly onto the floor and staying there.

Good. She hopes he feels it. 

She’s just returning to work when she’s interrupted by a soft voice.

"We're friends, right?" 

Brienne blinks at Sansa Stark several times. She's hovering in the doorway to Brienne's office, twisting her hands in front of her and gazing past Brienne's shoulder at the wall.

It's not a term she would have used herself, but after several weeks of being dragged into group lunch and leering sessions, Brienne figures it's not entirely inaccurate. They're certainly more than acquaintances. 

"I suppose."

Sansa creeps into the doorway. She's not looking towards the window at all - where Lannister is still collapsed on the floor - but is for once entirely focused on Brienne.

"And you box, right?" She glances over her shoulder, at the nearness of Pod's desk. "Can we..."

"Of course. And yes." Brienne closes the door behind her, gesturing towards the chairs. 

"So I have ..." Sansa takes a deep breath. "I had some, um, bad experiences. With men.”

Brienne nods, although she's not sure where this is going or why Sansa picked her to confide in.

"I dated a man who was .. well. He wasn’t a good person. He picked me because my dad’s in politics and nobody does that without enemies, even him. I thought he cared for me but he was just using me to hurt my dad.”

"Sansa, I'm so sorry."

"It was bad. Very bad. Ramsey did ... I didn't even know some of those things could be done to another human.”

Brienne sucks in a breath at the name. She saw those news stories - everyone did, it probably made the papers all the way in Essos it was so awful. Rape, torture, flaying for gods sake.  A sick man barricading his girlfriend in his house until she managed to escape and knock on a neighbor’s door one day - luckily for her, a neighbor who had let her in and called the police.

It’s hard to imagine that poor, desperate woman was Sansa.

Sansa keeps going. “And when I was nanny for the Baratheons it was - there’s something wrong with Joffrey. He likes hurting people. His own siblings, anyone. He was only ten or so but he had one of their staff hold me down and he had a knife and … if he was older I don’t think I’d have left alive.”

Brienne can't imagine that happening to the delicate young woman in front of her, and she feels a pang of regret for the uncharitable thoughts she's had about how easy life must be when you look as pretty as Sansa does. 

“And I thought, I mean, if it's not too much trouble, maybe you could teach me? Some things? Not a lot, I don't really want to fight anyone, but I'd like to know that I could defend myself. If it happened again."

“Are you sure? I’m sure there are self defense classes for this kind of thing.”

Sansa shakes her head. “I tried, but there’s so many people and I know I’m not strong at all so I’m not very good and it’s just too much.”

There's really only one answer she can give. 

"Of course." 

Chapter Text

There's no denying Sansa looks out of place at the gym, all red braids and yoga pants and a sparkly pink top amidst a crowd of muscle bound men in battered tank tops and shorts. But she's focused and determined. 

They're working on some footwork in the ring - Sansa’s right about not being strong, it’s going to take a lot of work before she can even think of throwing an effective punch, but she's graceful so Brienne thinks evasion is a good place to start - when Clegane shows up.

He snorts at what he sees, and Brienne shoots him a warning glare.

"Plant your feet on the ground, woman," he tells Sansa, "Stop hopping around like a little bird."

Brienne gives Sansa credit. She may scowl at Clegane's unsolicited advice, but she meets his eyes and doesn't flinch when she sees the burn scars covering half of his face. That's more than most of the men that come in manage. 

"My name's Sansa," she says. 

Clegane stares back impassively.

Sansa bites her lip, eyes flicking back to Brienne as she tries to stand more firmly. "It feels weird."

"Stop locking your knees, you'll pass out if you do." Brienne taps the back of them. "And put your feet further apart, it's more stable." 

Sansa still looks uncomfortable, even more so as Clegane continues to observe. 

"What's a little bird like you want to learn to box for, anyway?" he asks. "Shouldn't you be at pilates?"

"I'm not learning to box, I'm learning to defend myself." 

He snorts. "Better work on running then." 

With that, he wanders off. Brienne can see the hurt in Sansa's eyes. Clegane hasn’t been any harsher with her than he is with anyone else, but there’s no way the girl can know that.

"Don't mind Clegane. He's harsh, but he means well. And he's not wrong - your best bet is always running, if you can. Fighting is hard and you don't want to do it unless you absolutely have to."

“Running isn’t always enough, though.”

The look in Sansa’s eyes when she says that tells Brienne it’s better not to ask. But it strengthens her resolve to work with Sansa as much as she can. She doesn’t have to know the details to realize what Sansa has been through has left deep marks. 

Once Clegane has said his piece they're ignored for the rest of the evening, and blessedly Lannister stays away. He looks a bit guilty as he hears the exchange between Sansa and Clegane, and Brienne supposes he knows what happened to her. Not just her, apparently, Sansa says she wasn’t the first nanny Joffrey thought he could harm.

Sansa insists that she should do something to return the favor and shows Brienne some yoga poses that target the tightness in her hips and shoulders from sitting at a desk all day.

Brienne is pretty sure she looks like a lumbering ox instead of the graceful swan Sansa resembles, but they do stretch her muscles in a way she’s not used to and it feels good.

She sees Lannister gawking out of the corner of her eye and steels herself for the mocking she’ll get later.

True to form, he hassles her about it all next week, wondering if it’s the most feminine thing she’s ever done and suggesting she buy some yoga pants. “The clingy kind,” he jokes, before he fakes leering at her butt. 

Sansa starts joining her once a week. Brienne makes it clear that she's not interested in anyone else poking their noses in.  Even Lannister obeys, though she suspects that has more to do with Sansa's history with his nephew than her warnings. It’s quite entertaining to see him skulk away when they come close, however. Even more amusingly, Clegane, who has continued to observe and offer tips, passed through Brienne, begins quietly joining them in yoga at the end of the evening.

He is very, very bad at it.

After a few weeks, Brienne is stunned when Selmy catches her on the way out and proposes the idea of a women's self-defense class. 

It's not something she's ever considered before, and she's not even sure she's really qualified, but Margaery and Sansa are delighted by the prospect when she tells them. The idea grows on her, especially when they share some of the stories from women they know. 

Brienne has been the target of mocking and cruel pranks her entire life, but her size and bulk have mostly shielded her from the kind of casual violence they talk about. 

Selmy has offered up an unused room for the purpose, since she pointed out that the almost entirely male audience doesn’t make the place terribly welcome for young women, many of whom are likely to have had bad experiences with men.

By midsummer she has a small list of women signed up, a start date set, and a sense of determination about helping the women of Kings Landing protect themselves.

Chapter Text

Naturally the lunch group insists on celebrating her new venture and Brienne grudgingly agrees to go out for drinks after work. It is, she thinks, the first time she's done that since, well, ever. 

Brienne specifically agrees to a small get-together, but she forgets that the Tyrells are congenitally incapable of doing anything low-key, or so Renly has told her. So she finds herself at a fancy cocktail bar overlooking Blackwater Rush. (Which is somehow far superior to Blackwater Bay, according to Loras, though Brienne couldn't tell you why. They look exactly the same.)

Renly has mentioned the outing to her team, who will go just about anywhere with the promise of alcohol, even Edd Tollett, who has not smiled once in the entire seven months he's worked for her. Margaery has brought some of the more tolerable folks from upstairs and somehow Sansa convinced some of the guys from Selmy's to come. Brienne has no idea when she even talked to them, but more of them than she’d have thought turn up.

Admittedly, she’d have guessed none of them would show, so it’s not a very high bar.

Thoros Myr and Beric Dondarrion clean up astonishingly well, and Brienne realizes that for all the years she’s been working out alongside these people, she actually knows nothing about them.

It's nerve-wracking and embarrassing to have this many people here for her but it's almost worth it for the expression on Clegane's face when Sansa slides a martini glass filled with dark pink booze and flowers in front of him. 

She’ll even admit that the women from Tyrells are fun, even if she can never quite tell when Shae is joking or being serious. Ygritte, who looks like she stepped out of a punk video at all times, has already downed a series of shots and is loudly challenging anyone in the group who can best her in knife throwing.

Where she got the knives Brienne does not know, but asking doesn't seem prudent.

Jon Snow, who has been staring at Ygritte since she walked in, downs the remains of his beer and inches closer to her.

"Brienne, stop hiding at your own party." Margaery tugs her from her spot  by the corner of the bar, where she's been watching Beric and Sam argue about Star Trek. It’s extremely intense.

"I'm not hiding. And I said I only wanted a small celebration."

"This is small," Margaery insists. "And stop nursing that beer. Celebratory drinks is plural." 

"The wench drinks? My, this is interesting." And there's the absolute last voice she wants to hear behind her.

Margaery's grip on her arm tightens as Lannister pulls a chair up, straddling it backwards and flashing them both a grin.

"I heard there was a party and you didn't invite me. That hurts, wench, it really does."

"It is not a party, and I didn't invite anyone," Brienne manages to get out between gritted teeth.

"Really? It certainly looks like a party. People. Drinks. Food...gods I hope there's food, I'm starving." 

A knife sails past them, embedding itself in the porch wall instead of the tree Brienne thinks (hopes) Jon was aiming at.

"You know nothing, Jon Snow," Ygritte shouts.

"A potentially deadly party," Lannister admits. "That seems rather fitting for you, though."

"Why are you even here?" she asks him.

"Well I heard we're celebrating. You're going to turn the women of Kings Landing into mighty warriors, isn't that right?" He casts a look at where Shae is draping herself over Podrick, who appears to be doing his best to become one with his seat. "Though I think you're going to have your work cut out for you." 

"Until men learn to behave, every woman should learn how to defend herself." 

She expects a snarky return, but instead he regards her thoughtfully for a moment before saying, "You're not wrong." 

He even seems almost sincere for once.

"OH MY GOD," Ygritte shouts as she flops on the bench. "You're Naked Guy."  She blinks drunkenly up at him. 

Brienne quietly collects the knives she’s dropped on the table and moves them out of reach.

"Well, mostly I go by Jaime." That smirk again.

"Your abs are very impressive," she informs him. “I want to lick them.”

Behind her, Jon’s face falls.

"Naked Guy?" Thoros asks, looking far too intrigued.

"Jaime’s apartment is across from Brienne's office," Margery explains. "Mr. Lannister is not fond of clothing." 

Lannister is not blushing, exactly, but he seems more uncomfortable than she would have thought, given his previous behavior.

“You’re a secret nudist?” Beric considers this. “I can respect that.”

"It's not right, man. Nobody can have a meeting in there anymore without seeing ..." Jon waves his hand vaguely in Lannister's direction, frowning. 

"Shut your mouth!" Shae has wandered back over, dragging Podrick and Edd with her. Edd looks mournful, as usual.  "That's the best lunchtime entertainment I've had in years."

Edd almost cracks a facial expression. 

"Oh, so you do watch me," Lannister exclaims. "I knew you weren't as offended as you like to pretend." 

Of course that’s what he would focus on.

"I don't watch you. They watch you." Brienne considers possible escape routes, wondering which one will get her out of this place the fastest. Margaery angles her body to block her in and grabs her arm again, preventing her from fleeing.

Renly and Sansa both have the grace to blush at that. "I mean, we don't watch watch," Renly offers weakly. "Just have lunch."

“While watching,” Ygritte adds cheerfully. “Wait, how old are you?”

“Forty-two,” Lannister tells her.

She pouts. “I think that’s over my ab-licking age limit.”

Jon looks relieved.

"We don't watch," Edd interjects. "We avoid." 

“How old are you ?” Lannister asks, and then groans and takes a long pull on his beer when Ygritte tells him she’s twenty-four.

He spins around to look at Brienne next. “Are you twenty-four?”

“No,” Brienne says at the same time Margaery says, “She’s thirty-two.”

“Oh good,” Lannister says vaguely. 

“Definitely in your ab-licking age range,” Ygritte informs Brienne helpfully.

Brienne buries her face in her hands. Margaery's nails dig into her arm. "So I didn't realize you two knew each other," she coos.

“You’re not telling your other friends about me? That hurts, it really does.”

“We’re not friends.”

“Well, you’ve seen me naked, we’re certainly not strangers.”

“I didn’t ask to see you naked,” Brienne reminds everyone.

“I modeled for an art class in college,” Jon says out of nowhere. “Lots of people have seen me naked. But I don’t think they’re all my friends.”

Ygritte stares at him and licks her lips.

Brienne wonders if she blocks them out long enough they’ll all disappear.

"We both train at Selmy's,” Jaime tells Margaery. “ We're going to fight someday."

"No we're not," Brienne mutters from behind her hands.

"And I'm going to win," Lannister continues as if she hadn't spoken. "It's going to be epic."

Clegane snorts from the corner of the table, where he is now sliding a glass of dark liquor to Sansa, who eyes it with trepidation.  Apparent retaliation for the earlier pink concoction, Brienne thinks.

"We. Are. Not. Fighting." 

"She's just playing coy. She really loves me," Lannister says to no one in particular. 

Chapter Text

"Brienne, why didn't you tell us Jaime was flirting with you," Margaery demands on Monday, when she once again bars Brienne from leaving.

It's ridiculous that she's getting ordered around by a woman she could literally pick up and move aside, Brienne thinks, but she can't shake her Septa’s lessons on politeness long enough to actually do so. 

Not that it would stop Margaery for long. She’s very tenacious.

Loras is gone today, too busy to take a break, and Ygritte has abandoned them to sit on Jon's desk and find new and creative ways to insult him. 

"Because he's not." 

"Brienne. Darling. He barely gave anyone else a passing glance."

"That's because he likes annoying me," Brienne says. 

"Yes, that's how men flirt."

Brienne sighs. She can't help glancing across the street again, where Lannister is sprawled out on the sofa with a laptop. His gold hair almost glows in the sun, and his tan skin highlights the dip and curve of his pectoral muscles, which are covered with a light dusting of hair. Brienne firmly tamps down on a stray thought wondering how soft it is.

"Men like him do not flirt with women like me."

"That's not what it looked like to me," Margaery insists.

"He follows us around the gym, too," Sansa offers. "I don't think he wants to talk to me because of… well. But he's always watching." 

"People stare at car wrecks, that doesn't mean they like them," Brienne points out. "I'm a joke to him."

It comes out more bitter than she had intended.

"Brienne ..." Margaery trails off.

"I know what I look like," Brienne says. "Men talk to freaks like me if they're desperate. And men like that aren't desperate."

“You are not a freak,” Sansa says, and Margaery nods in agreement. 

They really are very sweet.

"It's not like high school," Renly says quietly.

"Really? Because it feels exactly like high school." 

Margaery and Sansa exchange glances. "What happened?" Sansa asks gently. 

Brienne doesn't want to share, she doesn't want to see the looks of pity on their faces. But Sansa opened up to her and she's starting to learn how sensitive the girl is, how hurt she'll be if Brienne doesn't. Against all possible odds it seems like Sansa actually enjoys her company and it's actually kind of nice to have another woman to talk to. She’s never had that before. Just Renly, really. 

"I was on the soccer team," she starts. "I was already so big and tall they usually had me play with the boys. They were afraid I would hurt someone accidentally, on the girls team. When some of the popular guys started talking to me, I thought maybe they were starting to appreciate my playing. I didn't think they'd want to date me, even, but maybe we could be friends." 

It still hurts, remembering how hopeful she'd been, how happy to think of spending her weekends doing something other than curling up in her room reading fantasy novels and dreaming about noble knights and fierce battles. Thinking about eating lunch with others, kicking a soccer ball around, normal things. The thought of romance hadn’t even crossed her mind.

"They had a party and one of them took me to the basement. He started kissing me, then trying to take off my shirt. I didn't know what to do. I heard a noise in the closet and then ... they were hiding, trying to take pictures.” Brienne takes a deep breath, steadying herself.

Sansa makes a wounded noise.

“I found out later they were going to post them around the school, that every year they had a game to see who could fuck the ugliest girl. They’d put something in my drink too, but I hadn’t had any. I got away before anything happened, but it didn’t matter. All anyone could talk about after was how stupid I was to think anyone wanted to spend time with Brienne the Beauty." 

Sansa throws her arms around her before she's finished speaking. Brienne can't help stiffening up, but the redhead only hugs her harder. "You weren't stupid," she says against her neck. "They were awful." 

"Please tell me they got expelled," Margaery says. Unlike Sansa, her voice is clear and deadly.

"Are you kidding? The teachers basically said the same thing. I mean, they used nicer words, but they said I should have known that they had an ulterior motive for inviting me."

Sansa growls low in her throat. Underneath the candy-colored facade, she’s got a spine of steel, Brienne is coming to learn.

"But there was one upside," Renly offers. "Brienne switched to cross-country after that, and we would never have met and become friends otherwise."

It hadn't been easy, Renly was so good-looking that she didn't trust him either, but he didn't travel with a large pack.  And she'd already heard the ugly rumors and knew he'd wound up missing part of one semester after some of the football team decided to play smear the queer.

It hadn’t prevented her from developing a crush on him, even though she knew it was impossible. She might look like a man, but she isn’t one and somehow that made it all hurt just a little bit less.

"There is that," Brienne agrees. 

"Do you remember their names? My grandmother knows people," Margaery says. It’s very clear from her tone exactly what sort of people she’s talking about.

She does remember their names, will never forget them probably, but revenge wouldn't change anything that happened. "It was a long time ago," she says instead.

Sansa is still clinging to her like a limpet. "Jaime's kind of an asshole, but he's not like that. He was the only one who tried to do something about Joffrey. Well, Tyrion too I suppose, but Joff was never going to listen to him." 

Brienne pets her hair awkwardly. "I don't think he'd actually try to harm me, but that doesn't mean he's not mocking me." 

"And you are not ugly," Margaery has switched topics now that the possibility of evil schemes is off the table. "Your wardrobe could use an upgrade, yes, and your features are unique, but you aren't hideous."

"I know what I look like," Brienne reminds her. Unique is possibly the nicest thing she's been called.

"You have astonishing eyes," Margaery continues anyway. "I've never seen anyone with eyes that blue. And your legs go on for miles, do you know what I would give for that? Loras has been wanting to dress you for ages."

Brienne starts.

"It's true," Renly agrees. "He's been on me to ask you about it. He’d do it himself but he's kind of afraid you'll punch him in the face."

"I would not!" She doesn't just go around punching people at random. Why would anyone think that?

"My brother is a tad highly strung," Margaery explains. 

"There's no point. The only thing sadder than an ugly girl is an ugly girl trying to disguise it and failing. I'd just look more ridiculous. Can you imagine me in that?" 

She gestures at Margaery's dress, today one that has a deep V to show of her cleavage, cutouts along her sides displaying a slim waist, and a skirt that flows in gentle waves around her legs. 

She flicks her eyes towards the window. Lannister probably likes women like that, all curves and seduction. Beautiful men usually do.

Margaery sighs. "I wish you wouldn't say that about yourself. And look, you don't have to change who you are completely. I know you're never going to dress like me or Shae. And you shouldn’t feel like you have to. But you can still try something that fits and suits you. Sansa doesn't like to wear things that show off too much either, but she still has a lovely wardrobe." 

Now that she thinks about it, Brienne realizes she's never seen Sansa in the kind of revealing outfits Margaery and Shae favor. Her skirts are always below the knee, and her closet seems to include a lot of loose, flowy pants and blouses. Even at the gym she's in sweats and a long sleeved shirt that, while not as loose as Brienne's, is a far cry from the skimpy things that stores try to promote as workout gear.

Sansa, who has finally detached herself, shrugs. “I don’t like men staring at me.”

Brienne thinks men are always going to stare at Sansa, no matter what she wears, but she hasn't considered that pretty women are under a microscope too, albeit a different kind of one. 

"I'll think about it," she says finally. 

Chapter Text

Brienne tries to put the entire conversation out of her mind, both wardrobe and flirting. Her jeans and tee shirts are comfortable, so are her sneakers, and no amount of clothing is going to make Lannister, or any other man, look at her in a romantic way.  

Not that she wants him too. Just because he's pretty doesn't mean he's not a jerk with no respect for others. 

She resolutely doesn't think about it, through the workdays and avoiding Lannister's pestering at the gym, through the way he tries to follow her to self-defense class, where she firmly informs him that it is women-only and shuts the door in his astonished face.

The class goes surprisingly well. There's been much more interest than she ever would have expected. There's Margaery and Sansa of course, but she gets three other students as well, completely unconnected to anyone she knows. She has no idea how they found out about it, but she's glad they're there. 

Missandei is a ballet dancer who's skittish after too many encounters with creepy fans, and while her upper body strength isn't much, her legs and endurance are excellent. Ros is an exotic dancer (stripper, she says bluntly) who has abs even Lannister would envy, and Gilly, a nurse who says she worries about walking to her car when her shifts end at midnight, is shockingly strong for someone so small. 

Even more amazingly, the women seem to view her with some combination of respect and admiration for what she can do. That's not the typical reaction she gets, not even from other female fighters. 

It challenges her in new ways, too. Brienne has been boxing since she saw tapes of her father’s fights from before he quit to take over the family fishing business, and she couldn’t have been more than eight or ten at the time. Now she has to strip back to the fundamentals and focus on them like she hasn’t in years.

Like Sansa, the women in her class want to give something back too, it seems. Missandei introduces a series of ballet moves to the warm up that leave Brienne hurting in ways she didn’t know she could hurt.  (And she almost faints when she gets a good look at the woman’s feet one day. Bless the seven, dancers don’t get enough credit.) Ros shares some dance moves that Brienne knows she’ll never be able to do and not look absurd, but they are kind of fun. Gilly doles out first aid and advice any time someone gets even a mild injury, as well as post-class cookies. Gilly is an excellent baker.

She also refuses to give any of the cookies to Lannister, who always seems to be casually loitering outside when class lets out.

Margaery and Sansa, as it turns out, have not at all forgotten about their conversation. Brienne nearly jumps out of her skin when her buzzer rings one Saturday morning - but instead of the confused delivery person she expects, she’s greeted by the cheery voices of her friends as they demand to be let up.

When she opens the door, the two are carrying armfuls of bags, some of which are emitting the delicious scent of warm sugar.

“You never agree to come to brunch, so we brought brunch to you!” Sansa declares cheerfully. 

She slips past a stunned Brienne and starts digging through her kitchen cabinet for plates, which she fills with warm french toast, heaping portions of fried potatoes and fruit salad.

Margaery is busy opening a bottle of champagne and orange juice. “Brienne, don’t you have wine glasses?”

“No.” She rarely drinks wine, and all she has in her kitchen is a small collection of mismatched coffee mugs.

Margaery shrugs. “Well, it won’t be the first time I’ve had mimosas in coffee mugs.” 

Brienne’s not entirely familiar with mimosas, but she thinks they’re probably supposed to have more orange juice than the ones Margaery is pouring. But before she can argue, she’s unceremoniously maneuvered into a chair and one of the mugs pressed into her hand. The food, she admits, looks delicious. 

“What’s all this?” she asks.

“Well, you never come to brunch,” Sansa says.

“Oh.” Brienne blushes. “I didn’t think...I mean, I thought you were just inviting me to be nice.”

“Well, one usually is nice to her friends,” Sansa says. “And once you’ve had Hot Pie’s french toast, you’ll never turn us down again.”

Margaery snorts. “Do you think I’ve ever invited someone I don’t like to anything? Please.” 

“Oh.” Brienne doesn’t really know how to respond to that, so she busies herself with the plate of food in front of her. It is, she has to admit, delicious. Sansa is right - it’ll be hard to say no next time, knowing how good everything is.

“And this is just the basics.” Sansa seems to be reading her thoughts. “The specials are out of this world. Last month they had this strawberry stuffed french toast with basil sweet cream, which I know sounds really weird, but I swear I’ve had actual dreams about it, it was so good.”

“The cocktails are amazing too,” Margery says around a mouthful of potatoes. “And all of the bartenders are gorgeous.” 

They fall quiet for the rest of the meal, focusing on the food. Brienne isn’t quite sure of the etiquette here - she’s not a good hostess at the best of times, even when she hasn’t been barged in on while still in her pajamas.  Even Renly has only been to her apartment one or two times and he’s always been the closest (only) friend she has.

Margaery saves her from it, though, pouring them another round of drinks and dragging her to the couch. 

“So, I hope you’re not mad,” Margaery begins. “But you didn’t say anything more about your clothes and Renly says you hate shopping, so we thought we’d bring the store to you, instead.”

“I do hate shopping,” Brienne says, for lack of a better response.

Sansa is busy sorting through the rest of the bags they brought with them, what looks to Brienne like an alarming amount of clothing. “We kept it casual - Renly says you don’t really have a dress code at your office.”

“For computer nerds, dressed is the code,” Brienne says. It makes her think of Lannister and she flushes again despite herself. “But really, I can’t take this.”

“You can and you will.” The look in Sansa’s eyes tells her that no isn’t really an option. She hands the bags over to Margaery before pulling out her phone and pulling up a playlist of pop songs.  “We knew you wouldn’t take anything from Tyrell yet, so nothing fancy. All high street stuff.”

“And nothing too crazy, of course.” Margaery starts rifling through the bags, coming up with a stack of denim. “Now let’s start with your pants…”

It doesn’t go nearly as badly as Brienne fears. The two women are very good at what they do, and they’ve clearly been paying attention to Brienne’s general preferences. There’s not a single skirt or dress in sight, nor anything with ruffles or flounces or anything else overly girly.

She winds up with a selection of jeans that fit more snugly than her usual, although she draws the line at the skinny jeans and leggings Margery begs her to try. Sansa talks her into a selection of tops that fit surprisingly well on Brienne’s frame, mostly crisp button-downs in shades of blue, cream and soft grey, in addition to her usual black. All of the sleeves have buttons to allow her to roll them up and secure them which is actually quite clever for summer.  

Margaery pinches the sides and mutters  about them looking better with tailoring, but doesn’t press the issue.

There are even shoes, flats that match the top and a pair of chunky, low-heeled boots that are Brienne’s favorite, courtesy of Ygritte. The fact that they make Margaery sigh and grit her teeth is a bonus.

Margaery is still looking forlornly at the pile of tunics and tank tops that Brienne refused to even consider when they reach the end of the bags, muttering under her breath when Sansa elbows her hard in the side. Margaery ignores it.

“I … thank you.” To her embarrassment Brienne finds her eyes are watering. “I’ve never had anyone … I don’t deserve…”

“You deserve it all,” Sansa says firmly. “This is what friends do.”

She wouldn’t know, she supposes.

“Oh, one last thing!” Margaery fishes out a final package and shoves it towards her. “From Ygritte.  It’s a little unseasonable, and this one IS designer, it’s a sample from her last show, but I think you’ll like it.”

Brienne has never even looked at anything designer, much less considered wearing it. But when she unwraps the package, she finds herself staring at the most gorgeous jacket she’s ever seen.  The leather is soft and smooth, and while the jacket itself is black with a hem that dips lower in the back, a series of crescent moons and suns are embroidered along the hem and front edges in shimmering thread. It fastens with a series of copper bars and it’s cut wide enough that Brienne can tell it will even fit her shoulders.

“Oh.” She runs her fingers over it, tracing the lines. “But aren’t samples usually...I mean, models are so small.”

“All Ygritte’s stuff is unisex and she hates typical models. So she’s got a wider variety of sizes.”  Margaery smiles gently. “It’s one of the reasons Grandmother insisted on funding her.” 

Sansa and Margaery manage to weasel a promise of future brunch dates out of her before they leave, and Brienne is surprised to find she’s smiling for the rest of the day.

Chapter Text

Self-defense class buys her one Lannister-free night at the gym but that still leaves the other two, and he’s become no less annoying as time goes on. She spends most of her workout pretending not to hear him over her earbuds (which aren’t actually playing any music) but he still tries.

And apparently he’s only getting more persistent because she finds him waiting for her when she leaves the locker room.

“I’m not going to fight you, Lannister. Go home.”

“But home is so boring,” he whines.  “Come for a drink with me.”

“Maybe you need a change of decor to mix it up. Drapes, perhaps.”

“And it’s only eight o’clock. That’s too early to go home.” He squints at her. “Not for you, I bet. You’re probably in bed by 9:30 like a good girl.”

It’s ten, actually, but she keeps her mouth shut. 

“I like the new look, by the way. Much better than the baggy jeans. I’m sure the 90s appreciated getting those back.”

She keeps walking.

“And I owe you a drink.” He tries again.

“Since when?”

“Your party. You ran off before we could properly toast your new venture.”  He flashes her a grin that probably has half of Kings Landing eating out of his hand. “I’ll even throw in a burger.” 

“I’m not hungry.” 

Unfortunately her stomach chooses that moment to growl loudly.

Lannister’s grin grows wider. “C’mon, wench. It’ll be great.” 

He slings an arm over her shoulder and well, Brienne is only human. He’s an incredibly attractive man and no matter how much she knows this is a terrible idea some tiny piece of her heart thinks that spending time with such a beautiful man, even one who will only ever see her as the beast from the gym, would be nice. (That part of her heart sounds a lot like Renly and Margaery.)

They wind up at a diner down the street, the kind of place where every option on the menu is grilled in a week’s worth of saturated fats and the waitresses look like they’ve been there as long as the building. She’s never eaten there for precisely those reasons.

Lannister needles her into getting fries with her food and it’s not until they have a couple of Valyrian ales in front of them that Brienne finds herself frantically searching for a topic of conversation.

“So, what is it that you actually do?” she finally asks. “I mean, you do have a job right?”

“The family business.” He gestures grandly with his beer. “Vice President of .. something. It’s my destiny to take control of Lannister Enterprises should my father actually die someday.” He lowers his voice. “I think he might actually be a robot, though.”

He doesn’t quite hit the same joking tone he usually has.

“Shouldn’t you know what you’re vice president of?” 

He shrugs. “Doesn’t matter really. My role is to smile and charm people when it’s necessary and stay out of the way the rest of the time.”

“It’s not what you wanted to do,” she guesses. 

“Lannisters don’t want. They obey. My dreams of knighthood were dashed when I learned the Night King had been defeated eons ago.”

“Mine too,” she admits. “Fighting dragons isn’t terribly useful this day and age.”

“We would have been great knights together,” he says. “They’d have written songs about us.”

He turns the conversation back to her then, and she finds herself trying to explain her job without ever mentioning the title. He keeps pushing, though, and she suspects he already weaseled it out of someone and has been storing up jokes ever since. 

They’re halfway through their burgers when she runs out of ways to evade. 

“Internet penetration specialist,” she mutters, feeling the blush starting already. He looks like the cat who got the cream.

“Penetration specialist,” he drags the words out as slowly as possible.

“Yes.”

“So you could penetrate me then? Expertly.” 

She ignores him and the innuendo heavy in his voice. 

“I would have thought that was more Renly’s game, but hey, I’m all for equal opportunity.” 

“It’s a serious job.”

“Oh, I take penetration very seriously.” His voice is lower and her stomach flips around despite her best efforts.

“Does it work in reverse though,” he wonders. “Do you get penetrated?”

She valiantly tries to pretend they’re still talking about work even as a wave of heat goes through her.

“That’s not actually how security goes,” she starts.

“You have been ...oh, no, you haven’t,” he says, correctly reading the way her jaw twitches and her face flames even redder. “A blushing maiden still.”

“That question is highly inappr-”

“I bet they’ve tried, right.” He interrupts her. “Surely some men must have tried to get inside Big Brienne.”

“They tried.” 

“Fought them off then. You could, of course.” His gaze is steady on her, the blush intensifying in her face. It reminds her of the times they’ve faced off in a wordless challenge at the gym or in their respective spaces.  “Maybe you need someone who could pin you down, make you feel like a woman.”

The words sink into her, and of course this is happening. Of course a handsome man wouldn’t want to spend time with her unless it’s a joke.

At least there’s nobody popping out of a closet. 

He keeps going, eyes steady on her face. “I could, you know. I’m strong enough.”

She’s heard enough.

Brienne stands, knocking over her beer bottle in her haste to get away. She wants to say something cutting in return, but she can’t get any words past the lump in her throat. She pushes past the startled waitress, sucking in gulps of air as she gets outside.

She dimly hears him calling after her, trying to catch up but she quickens her pace and practically flings herself into the nearest taxi before he can reach her. 

She’s never let the men who hurt her see her cry and she’s not about to start now. 

Chapter Text

She starts avoiding Selmy’s except for nights she teaches. There’s a fitness room in her building she uses instead. It doesn’t have a punching bag or free weights but it also doesn’t have men intent on tormenting her. 

It doesn’t seem to have much of anyone, actually, and she’s not sure that some of the machines have even been used before.

It’s bad enough that he’s there in front of her every day, beautiful and unabashed, on display across the street. A reminder of just how attractive it’s possible for people to be, while she is an example of just how ugly one can get. 

She catches him looking at her still, a curious look on his face. He tries to catch her eye but she avoids his gaze. 

Yet no matter how awful he is, she can’t stop the wave of heat she feels seeing him lounging around his apartment like a contented cat. 

I’m strong enough keeps running through her head, and she wonders what it would be like if those words had been meant seriously instead of in mocking. 

She should have known better. She does know better.  

She still gets roped into lunch once a week, but she stays quiet. She knows they suspect something’s wrong, but nobody pushes her on it at first. 

It’s unfair, really. So many beautiful people are so awful inside and it doesn’t do a thing to diminish their appeal. Yet no amount of kindness she can muster will ever make a man look at her with want. 

She misses the gym. She misses punching, she misses fighting, she misses the time where for once her body is an advantage instead of a liability.  She even misses Clegane and Beric and Thoros and all the other men who are kind enough to accept her presence and treat her as an equal.

It’s stupid and cowardly, and she hates that she’s letting herself give into it. That she’s letting a man she barely knows get so deeply under her skin after a lifetime of taunts just like his. 

It’s after a couple of weeks that her friends get tired of tiptoeing around the subject. “Sandor says you haven’t been at the gym,” Sansa says abruptly, in the middle of an argument about the government’s threads to impose tariffs on Myr and what it would mean.

Margaery’s brow furrows. “Sandor?”

Sansa waves a hand. “Clegane. He says you only come for class lately.”

“Since when do you talk to Clegane?” Brienne can’t really imagine the pair of them having much in common. 

“We get tea sometimes.” 

The image that conjures up is even stranger. 

“What?” Sansa says defensively. “We have a lot to talk about.”

“Okay,” Loras says slowly. 

“But why haven’t you been going? And you’ve been so quiet.” Sansa presses.

Brienne is beginning to think Sansa has some sort of magical persuasive powers because when she opens her mouth to refuse, she insteads finds herself telling the group exactly what happened. 

It’s vaguely horrifying.

“I will kill him,” Margaery says.  “Men are so stupid.”

“My uncle’s got land up north,” Ygritte offers. She’s in one of the chairs, but instead of sitting like a normal person, she’s laying upside down, legs propped on up the back, her head hanging in front of the seat. She has a truly impressive hickey on one side of her neck. “Loads of places to bury a body. Nobody’d ever find him.” 

What is it with these people and threats of murder?

“You shouldn’t let him get to you,” Renly says. 

“Easy for you to say.” Brienne knows she sounds bitter. She’d thought she’d accepted her lot in life, thought she’d gotten to a place of acceptance, but apparently she’s mistaken. “Nobody looks at you like you belong in a freak show.”

“I’m gay ,” Renly reminds her. “Of course they do.”

“You don’t belong in a freak show,” Loras says firmly. “No more than the rest of us.”

Ygritte opens her mouth but Margaery slaps a hand over it before she can get a word out.

“Easy for you to say,” Brienne mutters. “None of you know what it’s like.”

“Says who?” Sansa demands. “Do you think you’re the only one who’s got issues?”

Brienne goes to say something, but Sansa gestures for her to be quiet before she can get a word out.

“No, I know you think you’re ugly and we’re beautiful. But do you really think that protects anyone?”

To Brienne’s shock, Sansa starts unbuttoning her blouse. 

“I might be able to disguise it better, but do you think you’re the only one who has flaws? Who gets looks of pity?”

Sansa yanks her blouse off and stands defiantly in her bra.

Her torso, Brienne sees, is a mass of scars, angry red marks criss-crossing her like a spider’s web. One hip is full of shiny, raised tissue the size of a saucer.  From the way Margaery’s face turns white, her back must look similar. 

“You think you’re the only one who knows that nobody will look at them with desire instead of revulsion? The only man to touch me only did it to hurt me and do you think I don’t want to know what it’s like to have someone try to touch me with love instead?” Sansa’s voice breaks but she keeps going. “That it doesn’t hurt to know that it will never happen?”

There’s a minute of stunned silence. 

After a bit, Sansa pulls her shirt back on and buttons it, seemingly as shocked by her own actions as everyone else. Brienne feels a wave of shame wash over her. 

“That’s what Clegane and I have in common, you know.” Sansa’s eyes are suspiciously watery but she’s not crying. “I wanted to know if it gets any easier. With time.”

Of course. His face.  

“I didn’t know,” Brienne says.  “I’m sorry.”

“And you’re both idiots,” Ygritte says bluntly. “Not everyone wants to date a godsdamned underwear model. Maybe here in Kings Landing,” the way she says the name makes it sound like a curse, “but there’s a whole world out there. Come up North.” 

“I’m from the North,” Sansa says.

Ygritte snorts. “Winterfell is not the north. I mean the real north, none of this prissy shit.”

“Or Dorne,” Loras adds. 

“They’ll fuck anything with a pulse in Dorne,” Renly says. “Enthusiastically.”

Brienne isn’t sure if that’s reassuring or not. 

“And more importantly,” Ygritte says, shooting a glare at the two men. “There are plenty of people who will like you for who you are, not what you look like.”

It’s something Brienne has heard many times before, even if there hasn’t been any hint of it happening. She’s smart, she’s kind, she’s dependable - those are all points in her favor. But that isn’t what she wants. It’s stupid and shallow, but she wants someone who isn’t with her despite her looks. Someone who looks at her with love and desire, like in the movies. Even if it is impossible.

From the look on Sansa’s face, she feels the same way. 

Chapter Text

It’s several days later that Brienne walks out the door of the building and nearly runs right into Lannister. 

He’s wearing a suit and looks just as gorgeous as he does naked. 

“Brienne.” His face is more serious than she’s ever seen it. “Can we … talk? Just for a minute. I promise.” 

She has a sinking suspicion he’s been waiting for her.

“I’m not sure what you have to say.”

“An apology? Please. After this, if you want, I’ll leave you alone.” He looks sincere, his usual smirk nowhere in sight, so after a moment she gives a short nod and lets him lead her down the street to a coffee shop and buy her a drink - she gets a Stormlands Fog, while he winds up with the largest, sugariest coffee milkshake concoction on order. 

“So, I haven’t seen you around,” he tries.

She stares placidly at him over her cup.

“I like the shirt,” he says gesturing. “It goes well with your eyes.”

She doesn’t say anything.

“Right. Look. I think I might have stepped wrong the other night. I wasn’t trying to be mean.”

“Might have?”

“Okay, definitely have. I just meant to tease you, I didn’t realize you’d take it so seriously.” 

She raises an eyebrow.

“And your students cornered me on Wednesday and threatened me with bodily harm if I didn’t apologize,” he admits. “That’s a vicious bunch of harpies you’re training there.”

As mortifying as that is, Brienne can’t help feel a flush of happiness at the idea that she has friends that will stand up for her - more than one, even. 

And pride that they’re getting confident enough to challenge someone like Lannister.

“You think you’d have learned not to insult the appearance of people who can beat you up,” she says.

“Well, we don’t know that, you haven’t agreed to fight me.” For a moment he’s back to his usual self. “Seriously, though, I really didn’t mean any harm by it.”

Brienne gapes at him for a moment, but before she can respond they’re interrupted by two of the people she least wants to see at this moment.  Or any moment really, but especially this one.

Ronnet Connington and Hyle Hunt have been with Kingsguard as long as she has, and they’ve hated her for the exact same length of time. They generally manage to keep a lid on it in the office, enough so that Renly doesn’t have grounds to actually fire them, but this is not the office and Brienne feels her stomach drop when they stop by the table, identical smirks on their faces. 

“Brienne the Beauty!” Hyle says, forcing an exaggerated grin. “I didn’t think you actually left your lair.” 

“I thought ogres were supposed to stay under bridges,” Connington adds. His voice is cruel and biting and Brienne automatically begins to fold into herself and try to be as small as possible.

Comprehension starts to dawn on Lannister’s face.

“Is it ogres that are under bridges?” Hunt asks. “I thought it was trolls.”

Connington shrugs, then does a double-take when he realizes who is at the table with her. He elbows Hunt hard in the side. 

“Dude. Dude it’s that guy they all stare at.”

Lannister nods curtly.  “I take it you know each other?”

“Oh, we work together. “ Connington grins at him like he’s found a new friend.

Brienne does her best to become one with her chair. 

“Man, what’d she pay you to get you to be seen in public with her?” Hunt asks. “Or did you catch her, ah … enjoying the view.” The lascivious tone leaves no room for misinterpreting what he’s implying. 

Brienne stares at the table, unable to bring herself to look at either of them. 

“Oh, did you?” Connington lights up. “We have a bet going, but that prick in building services won’t turn over the security tapes.” 

“I bet she looks even uglier when she comes,” Hunt speculates.

Connington twists his face up in an exaggerated grimace and they both laugh heartily.

Brienne makes a mental note to do something nice for Gendry.  

“Maybe that’s why she’s been dressing up lately.” Hunt looks her up and down before putting on a tone of false pity.  “She’s trying so hard.”

Connington leans forward, like he’s sharing a secret with Lannister. “It’s like putting lipstick on a pig.” He lowers his voice to a fake whisper. “Though that might be an insult to pigs.” 

“I assure you Brienne has been the paradigm of propriety. Unlike myself.” Lannister’s voice is icy. 

Hunt snickers. “Of course she has. God, you’d think she’d learn that if you can’t be pretty you can at least be easy.”

“All cats are grey in the dark, right?” Connington adds. “A few drinks, turn out the lights …”

Brienne’s head snaps up at the unmistakable sound of a bone being broken. Lannister has stood up and is shaking his fist out while Connington clutches his nose. 

“What the hell , man!” 

Jaime is eyeing Hunt now, an unmistakable expression of fury on his face. “I suggest the two of you leave. Immediately.” 

“Jeez, what’d she do to get you so protective.” Hunt is a lot of things, but quick learner isn’t one of them. “She can’t be that good in bed.”

The sound of bones cracking when Lannister’s fist connects with his eye is extremely satisfying, Brienne has to admit. Even if she wants to crawl under the table when she notices the crowd being attracted by the spectacle. 

One of them has a cell phone out. Gods, she hopes this doesn’t end up on the internet.

“Brienne is a better person than either of you could ever hope to be.” Lannister is glaring at both men, nearly vibrating with fury. “Leave. Now.”

Surprisingly, they do. Or maybe not so surprisingly - they’ve always struck her as all talk and no ability to back it up.  

The crowd disperses, though not without heated whispers and glances between the two of them. Brienne doesn’t need to hear to imagine what they’re saying.

Lannister sits down, holding his cup against his knuckles and staring at her. 

“I’m starting to see why you might have taken my comments the wrong way,”  he says finally.

She shrugs.

“Fuck, I was just as bad as they are, wasn’t I?”

Well, at least he’s coming to the realization without being prompted. 

“You have to deal with that often?”

“What do you think?” 

“I think they’re stupid fuckers,” he mutters. “Shit. I’m sorry. I don’t … I’m an asshole, okay? But I am sorry.” 

“You really are,” she agrees. “An asshole, I mean.”

“Any hope of getting a second chance?” 

Brienne honestly has no idea why he even wants one - aside from the proximity of his apartment and her office, they have absolutely zero reason to be anything but strangers. He could easily go the entire rest of his life moving with the rich and beautiful and never have another interaction with her again. 

But he seems genuinely sorry. And she can’t help hear her father’s voice in her head, reminding her that she should give people the same benefit of the doubt she’d want given to her. 

She’s always been too forgiving anyway.

“Fine.” 

The smile he gives her is as blinding as the sun.

Chapter Text

She doesn’t really see him again - well she sees him, every day, altogether too much of him - until the feast of Azor Ahai. He’s been distracted at the gym, she can’t help but noticing, and his pestering her seems more out of habit than anything else.  She shoots him down just as easily but it lacks the bite from before. He also gives the entrance to the self-defense studio a wider berth, though he still loiters there most Thursdays.

Not that she’s paying attention to how he behaves. She’s just observant. 

She pushes down any worry she has. They aren’t friends, really, acquaintances more than anything and he’s a grown man. Whatever it is, he can certainly handle it. Just because he wants to have a cordial relationship doesn’t mean anything. 

The last thing she needs is getting yet another crush on a man who would only ever see her as a potential sparring partner.  Especially one who can’t seem to talk to people without insulting them. 

Besides, her life is surprisingly full right now. Fuller than it’s ever been, really. Sansa and Margaery have coerced her into their weekly brunch shenanigans, which are quite fun and the food at Hot Pie’s really is incredible. She’s actually contemplated begging in order to get them to bring back the peach and cardamom pancakes they offered as a special once. 

Her team has been more insistent on her joining them for after work drinks once in a while, now that they know she might be willing. Despite the computer nerd stereotype, they’re all interested in sporting pursuits - well, except Sam, but he’s always willing to give it a try, bless him - and they even get together one weekend to go hiking on one of the trails that’s not far outside the Mud Gate.

And she has her class. They’ve become surprisingly close as well. Missandei had extended an invitation to see her perform her first starring role and a group of them (plus Pod, who is apparently very interested in dance) had gone to see her in White Dragon. Ballet has never really been Brienne’s thing, but the show is gorgeous and Missandei has given her a new appreciation for how much work it takes for the performers to look so effortless on stage.

When Sansa tells them what Jaime did, Gilly even gives him a cookie one week.

Weekly phone calls with her father take on a new tone as well. She has things to talk about now, rather than simply saying she’s fine and redirecting the conversation back to his work, to which he is as devoted as ever.  He soaks up every tale, asks for details on all of the people she mentions. Ygritte stories crack him up every time, he thinks Sansa sounds like a dear, and wonders if Gilly could ship him some of her desserts one day.

She can hear him fighting back tears sometimes, when she’s talking about a funny thing that happened in class or one of Margaery’s crazy ideas. He’s always seen her as something precious, she knows, and he’s never truly understood that others don’t. All he’s ever wanted is for her to be loved and accepted and, unlike Brienne, he’s never given up on the idea that it’s possible. 

Somehow, and she has no idea how, her social circles have begun to bleed into each other. The gym, the office, the Tyrell office, her class. It’s incredibly odd and should never work, but somehow it does. Ygritte has started dating Jon (who is Sansa’s cousin, apparently) and Sansa and Clegane have developed what Brienne still considers an incredibly bizarre friendship. 

And so it is that she finds herself watching her friends assemble a giant bonfire on the shore in front of Blackwater Bay. Ros and Gilly had come early to stake out a spot - working nights mean they could get there while most people are still at work, so they have a prime spot on the shore.

Brienne’s protests that none of them actually follow R’hollor and thus have no need to participate in the holiday have fallen on deaf ears. Ygritte’s fascination with fire and Margaery’s willingness to find any excuse to party probably have a lot to do with that. 

Loras and Margaery are setting up what appears to be nearly a full bar off to the side - that can’t be legal - and Ros seems to be trying to teach Pod stripper moves. 

Oh gods, she’s never going to be able to unsee that. 

Sansa’s brought her younger sister, who’s just starting college at Kings Landing University,  and she’s taken to helping Ygritte with the bonfire construction. From what Brienne can tell, that mostly means watching several of the men gather firewood while insulting them at regular intervals. 

“You know,” Gendry says, from where he’s looking down at her. “You shouldn’t insult people bigger than you are.”

When Gilly found out about the bet and Gendry’s refusal to give up any evidence, she baked him an entire box of cookies.

Gendry’s got at least a foot on her and Arya aims a kick at his shins, which he dodges.

“I’d never get to insult anybody, then.” 

He folds his arms. “Let’s see you build a better fire then.”

Arya shoves him out of the way, and Brienne backs up several feet when she notices Ygritte hauling what appears to be a large jug of gasoline.

Somehow, she’s not at all surprised to see Jaime show up. Margaery’s insistence on forcing her into a flowy blue tank top and white shorts suddenly makes sense - ever since he apologized (and punched Connington and Hyle), she’s been back to her conviction that Jaime is flirting with Brienne and nothing will convince her otherwise. 

Brienne tugs self-consciously at the edge of her shorts, trying to pull them down another few inches. Ever since Sansa’s outburst, she’s been trying to be more willing to go along with their ideas and push her own boundaries, at least outside of the office. The fact that Westeros is in the midst of a heatwave that makes it feel like one of the seven hells helped convince her as well.

And she’d wanted to show support for Sansa, who is wearing a sundress that exposes the mess of scars on her upper arms and thighs. It’s a brutal reminder that everyone has their own baggage. 

Jaime has brought friends, but they aren’t the sneering frat boy types she might have guessed. Instead, a weathered looking man with a brown ponytail and a dwarf follow him across the sand. It’s so hot that one of the subway rails actually melted and yet he still manages to look like he’s stepped off the cover of a yachting magazine, fresh and perfect. 

She sees him sweep his eyes over her and suddenly wishes she had brought a towel or something to hide under. She’s eyeing the tablecloths Margaery had brought to set up the bar, but before she can do anything, he reaches her and introduces the ponytailed man as Bronn (last name and relation unclear) and the dwarf as his brother Tyrion. 

Brienne tries to keep the surprise from showing on her face - the two look nothing alike. But after a moment she can see they have the same gold hair, and that one of Tryion’s mismatched eyes is the same emerald as Jaime’s. 

The identical smirks also help showcase the family tie.

Tyrion looks her up and down for a moment. “You have the absolute longest legs I’ve ever seen.  How tall are you? I feel like I need a step stool.”

For once Brienne doesn’t take offense - he’s not actually exaggerating that much and the look he gives her is one of understanding. It’s rare to run across someone that society considers as freakish as her, and it feels sometimes like there’s an unspoken thread of shared pain that binds them all together. 

It doesn’t take long before Bronn wanders off to help with the fire while Tyrion collects a large glass of gin from Margery and heads off to join Ros, whom he appears to know quite well.

Bronn’s idea of helping looks a lot more like trying to get in Ygritte’s ripped denim shorts. 

“Ah, my brother. Friends with every stripper and whore in Kings Landing,” Jaime comments. 

“Ros is very nice.”

“I didn’t say she wasn’t nice, wench. I said she was a stripper. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.” He considers the scene in front of them. “Though I think she might eat that young man alive.”

“I’m sure Pod can fend for himself.” She’s not actually sure of that at all but she feels obligated to stand up for him. 

“Surprised to see you here, though. Didn’t take you for one of the Lord of Light fanatics.”

“And you are?”

“Touche. I do like a good fire, at least.”  

He still seems distracted, she notes, and his quips are more half-hearted than usual.

“So does the rest of this crowd, apparently.” 

They fall into silence as Ygritte proclaims the fire satisfactorily built and nearly singes her eyebrows off lighting it. It is pretty, even a few hours before sunset. 

After a while Jaime treks off to the bar and comes back with two glasses of the drink Loras has created for the event. They’re topped with a flaming slice of lime that Brienne eyes dubiously.

It’s not bad, really - bourbon, she thinks, with ginger beer and red currant. It’s strong, though, and she can feel it going to her head. 

The silence, she realizes, is becoming awkward but she isn’t terribly sure what to say. 

She’s saved by Sansa, who has been busily coordinating a feast of whatever can be cooked on an open flame. She waves them over for plates full of hot dogs, veggie kebabs, and roast corn.

Jaime eyes the plate skeptically. “It’s been cooked on a stick.”

“It’s a bonfire,” Arya says. “Duh.”

“It’s not very hygienic,” he mutters. 

“Haven’t you ever cooked on a fire before?” Brienne asks.

“Nah, too spoiled.” Bronn answers for him. “Rich kids.”

“Hey, even I’ve cooked over a fire,” Loras objects. 

Jaime glares at them all. “Aren’t you a nurse? Shouldn’t you be worried?” he directs this at Gilly, who is loading her plate in between glances at Sam, who seems to be having difficulty putting words together.

“Fire kills germs,” she says. “And gods know it’s not the worst thing I’ve been exposed to.” 

It’s good, though, and even Jaime seems to think so. Margaery flits around refilling drinks and Sansa ferries plates back to Clegane, who is about as far from the fire as it is possible to be and still remain on the beach. 

Brienne notices that Margaery seems to follow shortly after each time, shooting angry looks at the man. She’s been a bit odd ever since Sansa had mentioned their friendship, and Brienne isn’t sure what to make of it. Surely Sansa wouldn’t abandon any of her friends just because she found a new one. 

Missandei’s brought her boyfriend. He’s a soldier, and apparently some sort of artist in his off time and prefers to go by the name Grey Worm, for reasons Brienne doesn’t understand. He’s very quiet but seems to have struck up a friendship of sorts with Edd, the two of them sitting in silence and staring at the flames. 

Brienne rests her head on her knees, watching her friends as the sun slowly sinks over the horizon. At some point someone produces a guitar, and Jon starts to play - of course he knows how he looks like the cover of a folk album. Pod has a surprisingly good voice and they work through a variety of standard songs while Missandei, Ros, Shae and Ygritte dance around the fire, with wildly different styles that seem to have very little relationship to the music being played. Shae coaxes Tyrion into joining them, and he does, with great enthusiasm and a decent amount of skill. Renly and Loras are cuddling off to one side, while Bronn and Clegane light up something that Brienne is firmly telling herself is a normal cigarette. 

Jaime stretches out beside her, close enough almost to touch, and Brienne wills herself not to blush. She can feel the heat of his body from here and she’s once again reminded of how good looking he is and feels slightly dizzy having him so close. The drinks people keep passing her haven’t helped. 

Instead, she watches Gilly, Sansa, and Margery wade into the bay, laughing and shrieking at the cold. No matter how hot it is, Blackwater bay never seems to quite warm up enough to be comfortable - she has to wear a wetsuit for most of her swims. Sam is watching them with a longing expression on his face and Brienne wonders if she should tell him about Gilly. 

She’s pregnant, she recently confided to Brienne, worried about participating in class, although she’s not with the father. It doesn't sound like a very good situation, but then it’s not her place to share, even if she doesn’t want Sam to get his heart broken. 

Arya and Gendry open the bag of marshmallows and start roasting them over the fire. Well. Gendry is roasting them. Arya is lighting them on fire and stuffing the blackened remains into her mouth and making horrible faces at him. 

“Aren’t we supposed to see our future in the flames or something?”

Jaime’s voice pulls Briene out of her reverie. “I don’t know.”

“I think we are.” He pulls himself upright. “Visions in the flames and all that.”

Brienne stares. “Looks like fire to me.”

“Not much for imagination are you?”

“It’s a fire.” 

He nudges her and she rolls her eyes at him. 

“You have very pretty eyes,” he says suddenly, staring at her face. They’re very. Blue.”

Brienne flushes. He keeps watching her for a minute, then turns back to the fire.

“I see deadly romance,” he says, gesturing at the flames and then at Jon and Ygritte. 

“You don’t need fire to figure that out,” she tells him. 

“Fine.” He glances around, then points at Ros and Pod. “I see very dirty love.”

“You seem to have a theme.” 

“New possibilities?” He suggests, looking over at her again.

She sighs. “That’s incredibly generic.”

“You’re missing the spirit, wench.” 

“Again, none of us are actually followers of R’hollor,” she says. He rolls his eyes and turns back to the fire.

“I see… a great battle between heroes. An epic faceoff. It looks like, oh yes, it’s us.” 

Brienne groans. “Not this again.”

“No, no. Look.” He scrambles to kneel slightly behind her, wrapping one arm around her shoulder and turning her head to look in the same direction before he starts gesturing wildly. “See, don’t you see? Two brilliant fighters. I … I think I’m winning.” 

She tries valiantly to focus on the motions he’s making with his free hand and not the feeling of his arm on her shoulders.

“You do not see that in the flames.” 

She can’t help but notice that he smells very good, spicy and crisp. He drops his hand from whatever he’s been trying to illustrate in midair, but instead of pulling away, he starts trailing his fingers down the side of her arm. 

Brienne goes very, very still.  

“I do.” His voice is right next to her ear and she shivers involuntarily.  “It will be the beginning of -”

Whatever it will be the beginning of is cut off by his pocket vibrating insistently. He pulls away from her to pull out his phone and his face darkens. 

The night suddenly feels much colder than it actually is.

“Shit.” He shoves the phone back in his pocket, running a hand through his hair.

“Is everything okay?”

“No. No it’s not.” He looks down at her. The teasing, affectionate Jaime of a moment ago is gone and she’s reminded of the arrogance he showed when they first met.  “It’s. Complicated.”  

He leaves, still scowling and Brienne can’t help feeling like she is missing something.

Chapter Text

The next few weeks are very strange. Margaery takes great delight in teasing her about the bonfire, because Margaery misses nothing. Sansa keeps gushing about how romantic it would be if she and Jaime got together, like something out of a movie. 

Brienne tries in vain to direct them to other gossip, but apparently it’s not as juicy. Gilly is strangely smitten with Sam, whom Brienne has never thought of as terribly attractive, to be honest. He’s kind, though, and Brienne really has no place judging anyone else’s appearance. Sam seems equally charmed by Gilly and talks the ear off of anyone who will listen to him about how amazing she is. 

“Gilly almost made it onto that baking show,” Sam gushes one morning. “She’s so talented. And she’s seen every episode of the original Star Trek at least three times.”

Coming from Sam, that is intended as a compliment.

Shae is possibly maybe dating Tyrion (she refuses to put a label on it) and joins in the speculating with Margaery and Sansa. 

“Tyrion says Jaime’s told him all about you,” Shae says. “Can’t stop talking about you.”

“Jaime talks to hear the sound of his own voice,” Brienne says. “I highly doubt my name comes up that often.” 

Margaery rolls her eyes.

“That’s not what Ty says,” Shae answers. “I highly endorse dating a Lannister. They’re very talented.” 

Shae towers over Tyrion by nearly a foot, and Brienne spares a brief moment wondering how that works, exactly, before deciding that she doesn’t really want to know. 

Ygritte saw Ros and Pod getting very friendly in the sand dunes after the bonfire, which is almost juicy enough to pull Margaery away from the topic of Jaime and Brienne, but not quite.

Brienne can’t quite look Pod in the eye for three days after Ygritte’s detailed description.

As for Jaime, any of the strangely affectionate behavior he’d shown has vanished.  He stops hassling her to fight him, barely says a word as he rushes past her at the gym. He stops loitering after classes. 

It’s for the best, Brienne tells herself, better that she not be tempted to believe what Margaery and Sansa are saying.  Just because he felt sorry enough for her to be kind for a while doesn’t mean that he would see her as anything other than a gym buddy. 

Jaime still swans about naked in his apartment but even that seems somehow subdued.

The lunch group even ends up going out to lunch one day instead of eating in her office, because Renly insists he can’t take looking at something so pathetic. “Happy naked men are hot,” he says. “Sad ones are just depressing.”

Brienne tells herself this is fine, all she wants is for him to leave her alone instead of toying with her, but she feels an ache in her chest at the thought.

She still catches him looking her way sometimes, but gone on is the playful challenge he once showed. Now, he just looks sad. 

He’s like the embodiment of a bad country song - the kind where the truck breaks, the wife runs off, the dog dies, and a tornado takes the town. 

Sansa wonders if someone has died. Margaery speculates that he’s been dumped, which Brienne thinks is patently absurd, even if he is an asshole sometimes. He’s proving to be fairly decent underneath it all and that’s not the type you let go of easily, especially when he looks like he should be sculpted into a statue. 

Loras thinks he needs to get laid, but Loras tends to think that’s the solution to every problem. 

One Thursday, he’s not in his apartment. That’s odd in and of itself. Ever since he moved in, Brienne has seen him there every day. He’ll leave once in a while, for an hour or two, but he’s never gone for a full day.

He has a life, she reminds herself, and he probably just went on vacation. The rest of the group think it’s odd too, though her team is delighted to be able to hold meetings without trying to avoid the window.

Although it’s somewhat derailed when Edd expresses the opinion that it’s nice to have a day without being made to feel inadequate, which Podrick innocently questions, which leads to a far too detailed conversation about dick size and dear god sometimes she hates working with all men. 

(She did not want to know that much about anyone on her team, least of all Pod, whom she’s always thought of as an adopted little brother.) 

So she almost doesn’t see it - but something catches her eye and she presses herself against the window to try to get a clearer look.  The door, she thinks later, open where it hadn’t been and swinging slightly as though someone had just left.

It takes a few minutes for what she’s seeing to sink in - the pieces seem disjointed and it takes a minute for her brain to fill in the gaps. But that’s definitely Jaime sprawled on the floor behind the sofa, motionless, and she realizes with horror that the spreading pool around him is not a reflection of the walls, but actual blood.

Chapter Text

Aegon Memorial Hospital is very nice, as far as hospitals go, but it’s still a hospital. It smells like antiseptic and pain, and the harsh lighting never changes. Brienne isn’t certain how long she’s been here, waiting, but it feels like an eternity.

She’d barely been able to get the security at the front desk to take her seriously when she ran in, insisting that someone go check on Jaime Lannister. But she’s learned how to use her height and breadth to her advantage and the security guard eventually capitulated, if only to stop her from looming over him in a menacing fashion.

Each moment it took, she imagined what could have happened to cause the frighteningly large pool of blood she had seen, and every moment arguing felt like years.

It all kicks back into high gear when the ambulance pulls up, full lights and sirens. The EMTs carry Jaime down on a stretcher, motionless, one of the medics pressing a wad of gauze to his hand as they move. It’s already soaked red. They’re followed by the ashen-faced guard who explains that she’d told them to check on him. They tell her to follow to the hospital, the police will need her statement but they’re going to meet them there. So she does.

She expects they’ve called his emergency contact, but nobody shows up, not even after she’s done giving her statement to an extremely unimpressed Gold Cloak. He seems to find her story doubtful, insinuating that she was somehow involved instead of merely seeing the aftermath of whatever happened from her window. She finally snaps at him to call Renly and get a key - he can see the view for himself if he likes. 

They can’t tell her much since she’s not family, but one of the nurses lets slip that they’ve taken him into surgery. She thinks she’ll just wait until someone gets there, but hours tick by and nobody shows. 

She watches the people in the waiting room for the ER as she passes time. Families with small children, crying and red-faced with fever. One of them has what looks like dragon pox, and is miserably trying to scratch while his mother tries to distract him. An elderly woman complaining of pain in her side who gets rushed back hastily. A bearded man in one corner has what appears to be a ziploc bag containing his fingers, and he waits for a surprisingly long time. 

Maybe the building didn’t have an emergency contact on file? Does anyone besides her even know that Jaime’s been hurt?

Finally, she thinks to text Margaery. Shae must have Tyrion’s number and Margaery must have Shae’s. Even if she can’t reach Shae, Margaery has an uncanny ability to find information on just about anyone. She doesn’t share much - just that she saw he was hurt and that she’s at the hospital and it looks bad. 

Twenty minutes later Tyrion rushes in, followed much more sedately by Bronn. She fills him in and after a short, tense, conversation with the nurse in triage, they’re ushered back to an elevator. She’d planned on leaving, really, but Tyrion cocks his head at her in a way that says he expects her to follow. 

“I’m sorry it took so long,” she says. “I thought they’d have an emergency contact on file at his building.”

“That would be our father.” 

“Oh, is he out of town?”

“Oh, no. He’s here.” 

She stares. 

“He declined to come.”

Bronn and Tyrion act as if this is completely normal and she gapes at them, appalled. 

“But he’s in surgery. He was unconscious.” 

Tyrion shrugs. 

“What is wrong with your family?” she asks, before she can stop herself. 

“Many things,” Tyrion says. “So very many things.” 

“Rich people,” Bronn mutters. 

Brienne wonders what he’s doing here. She doesn’t think he’s Tyrion’s partner - Tyrion seems very, very straight - but he also doesn’t seem to be terribly friendly with Jaime to have come on his own. Not that it’s any of her business. 

The surgical waiting room is roughly the same as the ER’s, although much less crowded. Tyrion asks her what happened and she tells him what she can. Nobody’s particularly in the mood for small talk, though Tyrion and Bronn have some sort of complicated non-verbal exchange after she shares her story. 

She should leave, really, now that Tyrion’s here, but she feels compelled to stay. It’s stupid - they aren’t even friends, really, and his brother is here now. But seeing him on the floor like that - seeing anyone like that - is awful and she needs to know that he’ll be okay.

After another hour, her stomach forcefully reminds her of how long it’s been since lunch and she wanders off in search of a vending machine. She skips the one with more substantial options, questioning exactly how long an egg salad sandwich would stay good in there, and returns with a pile of tiny donuts, cream-filled chocolate cupcakes, and Cheez-Its.

Tyrion stares at the pile of snacks in bewilderment, eventually picking up a pack of Cheez-Its, which he stares at in fascination.

"It's so ... orange."

"Gods, you're as bad as your brother,” Brienne says, remembering the bonfire. “Did you grow up in a bubble or something?" 

None of these things are on her healthy diet, but she figures if there's a time for stress eating, this qualifies.

"Something like that," he says. He crunches thoughtfully. "They're good, though."

"Addictive, salty goodness," Bronn agrees. 

They lapse back into silence again, though Tyrion seems equally charmed by the cupcakes. It's nearing two am when the surgeon finally comes back out, looking exhausted.

Whatever happened to Jaime, it's bad - a burst spleen and internal bleeding and his hand crushed. There was hemorrhaging. A collapsed lung. He's stable, but they weren't able to save the hand. He's still under.

Brienne leaves the hospital in a daze - Tyrion invited her to stay, but she's declined.  She’s not family and she doubts Jaime wants a near-stranger there when he wakes up. 

She tries not to think about what would have happened if she hadn't noticed him. He'd barely pulled through as it is, from what the surgeon says.

And his hand. Gods. She can't even imagine that. She stares at her own for ages as she lies in bed, thinking about what it would be like to suddenly lose it.

It's a long time before sleep comes.

Chapter Text

Brienne stops by the hospital the next day. Jaime is drifting in and out of consciousness, and the room is empty. Not only is Tyrion absent, so is any evidence that he (or anyone else) has been there. 

Brienne knows he has a father and a sister, but there’s no sign of them, either.

For the few moments when Jaime is marginally awake, he seems utterly thrilled to see another human. The tube down his throat means he can't communicate very well, though she thinks he tries to say wench. She promises to visit again, although she's fairly sure he won't remember any of it. He’s very clearly doped to the gills.

The emptiness of the room brings her back, even though she’d told herself she’d just go once to check in on him. She did promise, after all.

It's just as deserted the next day. And the day after that. The same, sterile room with no sign of visitors. On the fourth day, she stops by the gift shop and brings up a small flower arrangement. On the seventh, a balloon bouquet.

She feels utterly ridiculous, leaving gifts and talking to someone she barely even knows. The nurses say it helps, though, to talk to him even though he’s out of it, so she does. She's taken to reading newspaper articles out loud while he’s asleep, to have something to say, and she worries what his family will say when they show up, but in a week she hasn't seen a single person. 

It boggles the mind - even before she met the friends she has now, she can't imagine ever being totally alone if she got hurt. Renly would have visited, her old coach, and her dad wouldn't leave her side if she was in such bad shape. Not even if the world were ending. Her family might be small but it’s loving.

But Jaime, lying unnaturally still and silent, seems to have nothing of the sort.

On the ninth day she finds a small lion in a shirt that reads "Get Well Soon" in cheerful red letters. She's pretty sure house Lannister's old sigil was a lion, and even if she's wrong, it's still cute. Especially since Jaime reminds her a bit of a lion, golden-maned and given to lounging contentedly in the sun. 

She's shocked to find Jaime sitting up this time - the tube gone and his eyes are alert enough that they must have dropped the level of pain medication. He has several days’ worth of beard by now, but of course it looks good on him even though he’s days out from a life-threatening injury. 

He’s staring at the bandage on his right wrist when she reaches the door. Her heart clenches at the devastated expression on his face.  She must make a noise, because he jerks his attention to the doorway in an instant.

When he sees her his eyes widen as he looks from her face to the lion to the flowers at his bedside and back again. "You! That's where this came from."

She can feel the blush creeping up her face and she feels the urge to shove the lion behind her back. 

"Sorry?"

“I thought they’d delivered it to the wrong room.” His head falls back on the pillow. “Did you visit too? I remember ...someone.”

She frowns. “Hasn’t your family been by?”

“Tyrion left a message with the nurse. He had to go to Braavos for business.”

“But. Your father…” she trails off. 

“Called to ask when I’ll be back at the office.” 

“You almost died ,” she says. 

“I didn’t though, so no excuses.”  He laughs bitterly. “Guess they forgot to tell him I’m useless now.”

“You’re not useless.”

He waves his bandaged stump in her face. “Last I checked humans came with two hands.”

“Amputees succeed all the time. There are plenty of things -”

“They aren’t Lannisters.”

“So?”

“A Lannister must be perfect.” 

She doesn’t trust herself not to say something that she’ll probably regret later, so she shoves the lion at him instead, avoiding eye contact. “I saw this. I thought it might cheer you up.”

He looks at it like he’s never seen a stuffed animal in his life. Then back at her. “And here I thought you didn’t like me.”

He’s trying for his usual joking tone but falling miserably short.

“I don’t have to like you to bring a get well gift,” Brienne says, annoyed. “It’s what you do when someone is in the hospital.”

“Is it?” 

This time her mouth opens before her brain thinks the better of it.

“Were you raised in a cave? By socially maladjusted wolves?” She shoves the lion into his good hand. “It’s good to see you conscious.”

He doesn’t respond, staring at the toy.  He raises his right hand, probably to try to grab it, and growls when he sees the bandage. His left tightens on the plush fur.

She stays a few minute longer, but it’s much harder to think of something to say to an awake Jaime.

Plus, the fact that he seems to have lost any desire to speak unsettles her deeply.  He answers any questions with clipped, short answers and returns to staring blankly ahead.  It’s nothing like the man she’s been coming to know and she’s not good at this sort of thing. Every failed attempt has her drawing back into herself, remembering that she doesn’t even belong here.  After several awkward exchanges, she finally gives up.

He doesn’t say anything as she leaves.

Chapter Text

Brienne doesn’t go back to the hospital after that. Aside from the lingering embarrassment she feels from bringing gifts he clearly didn’t expect, he didn’t seem to be in the mood for company. 

She tells herself it’s because she doesn’t want to intrude, but all the lingering taunts from childhood rise up in the back of her mind. She’s never been charming or good at people, and there’s no need to force herself on a captive audience. 

She feels guilty, though, thinking of how surprised he was by the simple kindness of bringing a get well gift, and the feeling only gets worse every day the apartment across the way stays empty and dark.

Someone must have cleaned up the blood, because it’s no longer there.

The lunchtime crew is upset too - she’s given only the sketchiest of details, but there’s no hiding how bad it was. 

They keep gathering for lunch anyway. It’s habit at this point. Even when they could go somewhere else. 

She wonders if he’ll come back at all. Maybe he won’t want to stay in a place where something so terrible happened. Maybe they’ll move a new tenant in.

She absolutely doesn’t feel a pang in her chest at the thought.

Just like she doesn’t feel a staggering sense of relief when she comes in one Thursday to find the lights on across the way and Jaime sprawled on the couch. Not naked, this time, but in a pair of pajama pants with what looks like a nurse bustling around. 

He looks terrible. His beard is longer but unkempt and he’s lost a lot of weight. His ribs cast shadows of his torso and there’s an angular jut of bone at his hips instead of muscle. Even from across the street she can tell he has deep, dark circles under his eyes. 

Even more disturbingly, he just lies there on the sofa, staring blankly at the ceiling.

Margaery gasps in shock when she comes down for lunch, spotting his bandaged stump immediately. 

“Oh, gods,” she says. “What happened to him?”

Brienne shrugs. “I don’t know.”

She turns back from the window. None of them seem to be able to look now. It’s less voyeuristic than before, technically, but it feels far more invasive. 

She finally gives the details of the story, at least from her perspective. Seeing him, the hours of surgery, not seeing another soul when she visited. The way he’d reacted to her gifts.

Nobody says anything about how red she turns when she brings that up, for which she’s grateful.

“Have you been back since?” Loras asks.

She shakes her head. “He didn’t seem to want me there.”

“He didn’t want you there, or you didn’t want to be there?” Renly says pointedly. “I know you and feelings.”

Of course he would hone in on that. He knows how she feels about vulnerability, hers or anyone else’s.

“We’re hardly friends,” she says, but it sounds weak even to her own ears.

The following Wednesday she walks into her office and finds Tyrion Lannister sitting in her chair. His feet don’t come near to reaching the floor but he still manages to preside over the room like a king.

“We need to talk.”

Nothing he tells her comes as a surprise, really. She has hardly seen Jaime move from the spot on the couch since he got home, although a parade of health aides and physical therapists rotate through each day.

He doesn’t cooperate with them as far as she can see, no matter how often they come back. She’s not sure if it’s the money or if they’re used to patients who don’t want to accept what has happened to them. 

She won’t lie. She has thought about checking up on him several times. She doesn’t know if security would let her in, but she figures she has a better chance now than before. And he just looks so terribly sad .

Except. 

“He didn’t want me there,” she says. “That’s why I didn’t go back to see him.”

“It’s not that he didn’t want you there. It’s just that he didn’t know what to do with you there.” Tyrion sighs. “Our family is not ….”

“Functional?” Brienne supplies.

“That’s one way of putting it. I tried to cancel my trip to Bravos but that’s. Well, let’s just say that wasn’t going to be allowed. And look at him, he’s wallowing.”

They both contemplate the view for a moment. 

“Fine, but we barely know each other. What about his friends?”

Tyrion just looks at her. 

“Oh, you can’t expect me to believe someone like him doesn’t have friends.”

“We’re Lannisters,” Tyrion says, as if that explains it.

She folds her arms and waits.

“People don’t become friends with Lannisters. Not without wanting something for it.”

“Maybe I do too.”

He laughs. “Maybe. But you came to the hospital every day when he was out of it - the nurses told me. And you could have made a ton of money selling your story about what happened, but I haven’t seen a word of it in the paper. Seven hells, you could have made money telling the media about him prancing about nude all day and all you did was yell at him.”

Brienne briefly considers trying to explain the concept of human decency, but she’s pretty sure it’s a mystery to both brothers.

“We’re not even really friends,” she tries.

Tyrion doesn’t bother to dignify that with a response. 

Chapter Text

So at 5:30 Brienne finds herself standing outside Jaime’s building, trying desperately not to remember the last time she was here.

The security guard’s attitude towards her has only marginally improved, as it turns out, and they greet her and Tyrion with barely disguised looks of disdain.  But then neither of them fit in with the beautiful crowd that occupies the building. 

She expects that Tyrion will come in with her, but he dashes back out of the elevator with a jaunty wave after pressing the button for the correct floor.  Brienne finds herself in front of Jaime's door, wondering what choices she's made in life that have led her to this particular moment.

He doesn't look any better in person. She stares at him leaning against the doorway, blinking up at her. The shadows under his eyes are even more alarming up close, like deep purple bruises.  The pajama pants he's wearing don't look like they've been washed in days. 

"Surprised to see you here," he says after he's let her in and he's back on the couch, staring distantly at the window.

Well. She deserves that.

She perches on the edge of a wingback chair that is softer and more comfortable than it looks. 

"I'm sorry." It doesn't seem like enough. "When you woke up you seemed...I thought you didn't want me there. I mean, we hardly know each other and I figured you'd rather see people ... that I was imposing."

"It's okay, you know. Nobody wants to hang out with the cripple."

"That's ridiculous."

"Is it?" He gestures around his apartment with his good hand. "Clearly this is quite the party."

"Your family," she tries again.

"My family is busy trying to figure out what to do now that I am no longer suitable to be the public face of Lannister Enterprises. Two useless sons and my sister is a Baratheon. My father is beside himself. "

Brienne has never met the Lannister patriarch, but she’s becoming remarkably familiar with the feeling of wanting to throttle him.

"Useless is not the word I'd use for either of you. And someone should tell your father about the success of the feminist movement."

"Tyrion’s not,” he admits. “But he’s a dwarf. Me? The stupidest Lannister. I’ve always been useless.”

"Well, you certainly will be if you decide to waste away on that couch," she snaps.

"And what should I do instead? My job is a formality, nothing more - I don't even do the work, you know. Just show up to meetings and say what I'm told like a good little boy.”

“Work isn’t everything.”

“What else should I do? It's not like I'm going to be able to box again. And I'm sure an old, one-handed man is surely a catch for all the ladies of Kings Landing."

"Oh, don't be absurd." 

"I'm absurd?"

"Yes. You are. You don't like your job? Get a different one.  You want to fight? Start by getting off your sofa and doing your rehab.”

He glowers at her. 

“And don't you dare talk to me about not being wanted - even one-handed you still look like, well, you."

He furrows his brow at her.  "Are you saying I'm handsome?"

"You know that you are." she sighs. "And as someone who isn't, let me assure you that life without romance is entirely possible."

"I was talking about sex, actually."

"Still true."

They glare at each other for a long moment.

"If I get better, will you fight me?"

It's a more serious request than she's heard any of the (many) times he's asked before. 

"Yes."

Chapter Text

Brienne keeps going back to Jaime’s. She can see that he’s actually trying, most of the time, to engage with the physical therapists that come by. They’re still the only ones that do, although she has run into Tyrion once or twice, on his way out when she arrives after her workout. 

She takes him food - Gilly is in the throes of nesting and has taken to providing the office with an amount of treats that vastly outstrips their ability to eat. Gilly and Sam aren't dating, precisely, but they have become extremely close and Sam doesn't seem to mind that she's carrying another man's child.  

Nobody minds that she expresses her affection for him with large quantities of baked goods. 

Slowly Jaime starts to look better - he gets some color back in his cheeks, starts to put on weight again. But there's still a shadow behind his eyes that never seems to leave. 

She gets to know him more deeply during these visits. She learns about growing up as a Lannister - sheltered, suspicious, isolated. How his father ignored Tyrion and dismissed his sister, the lack of friendship or even fun. In some ways, it’s like he grew up in some weird, wealthy bubble.

In return, she tells him about her childhood, about learning to love nature and computers in equal measure because they were places where she wouldn't be judged for being ugly and ungainly. She talks about her father, which seems to fascinate him, the close relationship they have. 

He apologizes for his nephew, says he should have done more to try to intervene. He’s glad Sansa wasn’t hurt too badly, wishes he could have done something to make a difference. Joffrey’s too old for nannies but Jaime’s still worried that he’s going to hurt someone even more badly. 

There's one thing they don't talk about, and that's how he lost his hand. She's fairly certain he does remember what happened to him, who hurt him, but he avoids the subject. 

Brienne looks forward to seeing him more than she should. They are friends now, there's no denying that. You don’t spend hours catching up on movies and talking about life with people you aren’t friends with. But you’re not supposed to get butterflies in your stomach when you get ready to see your friends. Or catch yourself gazing at their chest when you’re supposed to be watching Empire Strikes Back, wondering if it their skin is as soft and warm as you imagine.

Thankfully the pajama pants have stayed, even when she’s not there, much to the dismay of the lunch group.

Brienne reminds herself of what she'd told him - even if he's over 40, even if he only has one hand, he's still a gorgeous man. And gorgeous men, she reminds herself, do not look twice at women like her.

It's not nearly as convincing as she'd like it to be and her friends don't help.

They're at brunch one Saturday, crowded into a booth at Hot Pie's when Margaery starts in again.

"I'm just saying, how many days a week are you over there?"

"That's not the point. We're friends. Friends spend time together."

"Not four or five days a week."

Sansa gives her a reproachful look. "We spend four or five days a week together."

Margaery attacks her stack of blackberry and almond pancakes with renewed vigor. "We're not talking about us, we're talking about Brienne and Jaime."

"You do seem to spend an awful lot of time together," Loras says gently. "That's usually a sign of potential."

The last part seems more directed at Sansa and Margaery than her, Brienne notes. 

Renly refills everyone's mimosas, overruling her attempts to stick to tea. "It's brunch, Brienne. Without booze, it would just be breakfast."

"I think it's sweet," Sansa says. "He seemed so lonely." 

"It's awful," Brienne says. "His family seems horrible."

"They are," Sansa says. "I mean, other than him and Tyrion. And the younger kids were sweet. I felt so bad for them."

"Cersei is a bitch," Margaery says. Brienne has never met Jaime's sister, but given the vehemence with which everyone speaks about her, she's fairly certain that's for the best. 

"Besides, even if there was a chance he'd be interested, he's just been hurt. He's not going to be thinking about any of that."

"Men are always thinking about sex, Brienne," Renly says. “We could be mostly dead and we’d still want to get laid.”

"I'm hardly the type someone like Jaime would go for," Brienne insists. 

"You don't know that. He's never dated anyone, look at the gossip columns." Sansa says. "We have no idea what his type is. And that can change, anyway." 

Sansa glances over at Margaery after that, before becoming very interested in her drink.

"And you haven't once said you're not interested in him," Loras adds. He really is too perceptive for his own good sometimes. "He is awfully handsome."

"I have eyes," Brienne says. "But that doesn't mean anything."

"You spend most of your evenings with him," Margaery reminds her again. "Spending that much time with someone and not getting bored is pretty significant."

It’s true. She doesn’t get bored. Some nights she’s shocked to look at her watch and realize that it’s nearly two in the morning and she hasn’t gone home yet. 

"It's okay to have feelings for him," Renly says.

"No," Brienne says miserably. "It's not."

Chapter Text

Summer is inching into fall the day she shows up to find him drunk out of his mind on the floor.

She'd been enjoying the day until then. It's one of her favorite parts of the year, the air taking on a crisp quality and the summer heat starting to ease into comfortable temperatures. The leaves haven't started to turn yet and the markets are overflowing with harvest bounty that makes her mouth water. She's brought a basket of ripe figs for dinner, along with a log of honeyed goat cheese and gently spiced salami. 

It’s a change from the usual takeout, but Brienne has been feeling guilty about the amount of junk they’ve both been eating. If she were Gilly, she’d cook for him. But she’s not Gilly, and anyway her culinary skills are limited to a small handful of easy and basic dishes that would certainly not impress someone who was raised with gourmet chefs.

They don’t even impress her and she was raised by a single father who thought 99% of all things could be grilled and if they couldn’t be, why bother?

When she first sees Jaime, her heart stops. He’s lying on the ground, staring vacantly off and she remembers the puddle of blood, his limp body. But he blinks his eyes open at her and the panic recedes.

"Wench." The word seems to amuse him. "Weeeench. Wench wench wench wench." 

"You're drunk." 

"So it would seem." His eyes travel from the floor to her face slowly. "You're very tall. Your legs they just ...." he waves his hand. "They just go all the way."

“Legs usually do.”

“Yes, but yours are very impressive.”

She rolls her eyes. “Get up.”

“Noooo.”

“The floor can’t be comfortable.”

“Issa nice floor.” He pats it affectionally. “My floor.”

“And yet.”

He still shows no signs of getting up so she hauls him bodily off the floor. He leans heavily on her, slumping onto her shoulder and breathing deeply. “You smell like …” 

He takes another sniff, nose nuzzling against her neck. Brienne stiffens, feeling his lips brush her skin accidentally. 

“Like coconuts,” he finishes.

“Body wash,” she tells him, trying to ignore the way he’s clinging to her for balance. She shuffles them towards the sofa. 

“My shower is very big,” he announces out of nowhere. His hand moves off her waist to gesture, nearly pitching him backwards. 

“That’s nice, Jaime.”

She catches his arm, pulling him back before can fall down again. 

"My knight,” he cheers, grabbing onto her again. 

She finally reaches the couch and gently drops him onto it. 

His eyes glaze over as he stares up at her. He is very drunk. "You're very strong. It's impressive. You're impressive."

He really likes that word tonight.

"What happened?"

"Cersei." He lets his head fall back. "My sweet, sweet sister." 

Brienne waits. Jaime hums vacantly under his breath.

"Did she come over?" she finally asks.

His laughter sounds more hysterical than humorous.

"Oh no, even she wouldn't dare show her face." He begins to list sideways on the sofa. "They found out who it was. This ..."

She's fairly certain the gesture he makes is meant to indicate the attack they've been so carefully avoiding. She can’t stop the horror from showing on her face.

"You hate me,” he says mournfully.

"I don't hate you, Jaime."

"You will."

"I won't." She means it too, she realizes. She might have hated him initially - or at least disliked him intensely - but now she can’t imagine it. 

"Everyone does. Even her. Even ..." he seems to lose his train of thought.

“Nobody hates you,” she says patiently.

"It's all true. All the rumors."

Brienne remembers what Loras had said that day she'd learned Jaime's identity. That he and his sister were together. In ways siblings are never supposed to be.

"My twin. My other half ... can't be whole as just a half," he rambles. "I was hers. She wasn't mine.”

He stares at the ceiling for several moments.

“She was his. Theirs. All of them. So many  of them. Tyrion knew. I knew but I didn't... so the same, we couldn't not be. Then I finally said no. But nobody says no to her."

"Jaime," Brienne says slowly. "Are you saying your sister was behind this?"

He nods. "You hate me now."

"I don't." 

Gods, he sounds so hurt.

“You think I’m disgusting. And stupid.”

“I don’t.”

“I am disgusting,” he says. “And stupid.”

“You’re not. She hurt you,” Brienne tells him, gingerly patting his leg. 

“I loved her,” he says, his voice very small. “But she never loved me.”

“Jaime …”

“Still stayed,” he slurs. “Who else would I …shouldn’t have told her no. Nobody tells Cersei no.”

“It’s not your fault,” she says. 

Jaime turns toward her, doing his best to focus his gaze on her face, like he’s trying to communicate something with just his eyes.

"I wanted to change. You ..." And then he passes out.

Chapter Text

As hard as Brienne tries, she can't get that conversation out of her head. She never asked for that secret but now she has it, churning over and over in her mind.

If Cersei is even half as beautiful as Jaime, they must have looked stunning together.

She’d stayed with him until he came to again, then helped him stumble to bed. Her heart turns over again when she thinks about how she'd found the stupid stuffed lion she'd brought him placed on his pillow. 

The room is almost as bare as the rest of his apartment - same garish red and gold (though at least the walls are white there) and ornate furniture. The only personal touch comes from two small photographs on his dresser (him and Tyrion, three blond children she thinks must be him and his siblings with a woman who could only be their mother) and the tiny lion.

She worried about leaving him - he was still so uncoordinated that he’d nearly pulled her onto the bed with him before she could extract herself from his confused grasp - but he’d seemed well enough that she felt okay.

She’s deeply uncomfortable with the way the image of him spread out on red sheets has stuck in her mind, red and gold like everything else. 

His apartment is just so sterile. Brienne's not what you'd call a designer in any sense of the word, but even she tries to make her place feel like hers. She wouldn't call it homey, exactly, but she has the usual personal clutter of life, photos stuck on the wall. She still has her old trophies from cross country, piles of books that she's read, small trinkets from various adventures. Shells from the beach, her first pair of boxing gloves, a quilt her mother made long before she was born.  

She's still thinking about it when Margaery and Sansa coax her out for a shopping trip after brunch. They haven't let up on their efforts to improve her wardrobe, no matter how futile it may be, and they take great delight in loading her up with a pile of blazers and sweaters and boots for fall.

She has to admit, she’s growing to like the changes and feel more comfortable. She’s not going to be a beauty in any reality, but she feels slightly less out of place.

They’re settled in at Margaery’s place with cups of tea and a pile of pastries from Margaery’s favorite bakery when she lets slip that they know who attacked Jaime, that it was someone close to him, someone he had trusted. It doesn't take long for Margaery to work out. 

"The rumors are true." It's a statement, not a question. 

Brienne says nothing.

Sansa is horrified. "But .... it's his sister."

"His twin," Brienne supplies, despite herself.

"You're taking it really well," Margaery says while Sansa is still mumbling about her brothers and making various expressions of dismay and disgust.

"I don't think I am," she says. "But I don't have siblings either - not that I remember, anyway. So I don't ... it's wrong, but I don't have the same reaction you do."

"It's abstract," Margaery supplies. 

"I'm surprised she didn't have him killed," Sansa mutters. “Cersei would totally have someone killed.”

"I think she meant to." 

Now that she's talking about it, Brienne finds it's hard for her to stop - the things he's told her about how cold his family is, how hurt he looked, how depressingly impersonal his place is.

"You really care about him," Sansa says. “He doesn’t deserve you.”

"He’s a good person. I just wish I didn’t care quite so much.”

“But you do,” Sansa says.

“You’re good for him,” Margaery adds. “Most people would have walked out.”

“I couldn’t do that!” Even if she hated him, it’s just wrong to leave somebody in that condition.

“That’s because you’re better than most people,” Sansa says. 

“I just wish I could make it easier for him.” Brienne thinks about the way Jaime had looked as she left, forlorn and dejected. “How is someone supposed to deal with their own sister trying to kill them?”

“Sister-lover,” Sansa mutters, sounding horrified.

"You can't fix him," Margaery says. "He has to do that himself."

Brienne bites viciously into her danish.

She isn't trying to fix him. She’s always thought women who try to fix men because they’re attractive are stupid and she knows better. But this isn’t fixing him, it’s trying to help him. Help her friend , she tells herself. 

They haven't spoken about the Cersei issue since then, although she knows he remembers telling her. If only because of the look of mingled dread and relief he’d given her the next time she knocked on his door. She also knows that the investigation is now closed, doubtless due to some favors being called in by his father, and that nothing is going to happen to Cersei. 

What she doesn't realize, not entirely, is how much his father expects to be able to sweep things under the rug. Not until Jaime tells her that his father expects him home for the Feast of the Mother, and that his sister and her family will be present. They are, apparently, expected to pretend that nothing has happened, at least for that day.

It's the most absurd thing she's ever heard and she doesn't think twice before inviting him to the event that Renly and Loras are hosting. 

She's been going for years, it's too expensive to fly back to Tarth for one day, and she's looking forward to it more than ever this year. Now she actually knows many of the people there, and she won't spend most of the day tidying up in the kitchen or sitting quietly while other people have conversations around her.

He tries to give her some vague excuses at first, and eventually she realizes that she might be the only non-relative and non-healthcare professional he's been in contact with since the loss of his hand. 

She bluntly informs him that he's going to have to leave the house at some point, so might as well do it for this. 

He argues less than she expects.

Chapter Text

The brownstone Renly and Loras own is probably too small for the crowd that gathers, but that doesn't make the day any less enjoyable.

There's a handful of people she doesn't know - friends from college or the gay scene mostly - and many more she does. The Stark sisters (and Jon Snow) follow the Old Gods but are always willing to  show up for food. Ygritte and Shae have come, plus Missandei and Grey - with a performance coming up the next day, Missandei can’t make it back to Naath. Clegane, who hates his family more than anyone she's ever met, including the Lannisters, has gotten an invite this year as well. Renly’s also invited Gendry and Pod, neither of whom have any discernible family to speak of.

There is, as always, a shocking amount of food. In their usual fashion, Renly and Loras have roasted both a duck and a large boar, because they can never agree on which tradition is the correct one. 

Everyone else brings side dishes, which range from Missandei's vegetarian stew to a haggis supplied by Ygritte, who declares any feast incomplete without it. Gilly is working, but has provided a truly astonishing number of pies. 

Brienne manages her one culinary achievement, a sweet potato gratin that she learned to make just for this dinner each year. Jaime brings several bottles of wine that, judging by Loras’ reaction, cost more than her rent. 

He tenses up when they get inside, but it’s so busy that they barely attract any notice. Margaery pulls him into a quick hug, but everyone else seems content to exchange quick pleasantries or ignore him entirely. 

Jaime hangs back at first, staring at the mass of people spilling out of the door to a soundtrack of mellow jazz.  Several people have started an impromptu soccer game in the backyard, and there’s a steady buzz of conversation that’s occasionally interrupted by a panicked shout from the kitchen.

There aren't enough seats, and people squeeze in wherever they can after serving themselves in the kitchen. Jaime quietly tells Brienne that he's never seen anything like it, and she admits that she hadn't either, not until Renly coaxed her into coming shortly after she moved here. 

He knows as many people here as she does, but he still sticks to her side. He’s still quieter than before, but he manages some sarcastic observations that have her stifling laughter. 

She hadn’t considered the possible issues of dinner, though, and he gets a panicky look on his face when people start getting up to grab food from the buffet-style setup in the kitchen, coming back juggling plates and cups.

Brienne takes in the situation and decides that the best thing to do is treat it like a non-issue. She sends him over to stake out a seat before they get taken and briskly loads up a plate, cutting anything that requires it, before handing it off to him without comment. 

Margaery gives her a sly look when she notices that, and Brienne rolls her eyes. The Tyrells plus Renly always spend more time fussing over guests than eating, probably because they’re still stuffed from the mandatory Tyrell dinner in the morning. All three take turns wandering by to check on them and give Brienne knowing glances while she tries not to blush.  

Margaery eventually loses interest, seeming more focused on interrupting any time Sansa tries to coax Clegane into socializing. 

By the time the sun starts to set, the crowd has dwindled, but she's finding it hard to motivate herself to leave. The house is warm and smells like delicious food, her stomach is full, and she’s surrounded by people she loves, even when they are infuriating.

They've all had several glasses of wine, not to mention several slices of pie, and Brienne is feeling pleasantly relaxed and warm.  It’s the only explanation for why she hasn’t moved away from where she’s squished up against Jaime, even though there’s much more space available now.

Jaime has relaxed too, and she's pressed against him on the crowded sofa. She'd made a half-hearted attempt to shift away earlier, but he'd only wrapped his arm around her and anchored her to his side while pleading with her not to abandon him.

Brienne had rolled her eyes at his dramatics, but stayed where she was.

Jaime hasn't moved his arm, though, and she's just tipsy enough to let herself enjoy being tucked up against him. They’re close enough in size that she doesn't feel as large and hulking as usual, and she allows herself one brief moment to imagine what this would feel like if they actually were something more than good friends. 

He’s very warm and she can smell the detergent he uses and the woodsy scent of his cologne. She’s tucked her legs up underneath her, and she can feel the solid muscle of his thigh beneath her knees. She lets her head fall onto his shoulder, waiting to see if he’ll push her away, but he only tightens his arm and kneads his fingers into the muscle of her arm. For a second, she imagines that he leans into her as well. 

He's close enough that his breath ruffles her hair as they watch Margery and Sansa having a heated conversation in the kitchen. There’s a lot of gesturing and whisper-yelling. 

It ends when Margery grabs Sansa and kisses her, a kiss that could in no way be described as platonic.

She has to muffle a gasp and when Jaime sees the shocked expression on her face he laughs so hard he nearly falls off the couch.

Chapter Text

It’s not as weird as she worried it would be to adjust to Sansa and Margaery being a couple. For the most part, they act the same as they always have, but with the addition of hand holding and kissing and staring at each other with wide-eyed expressions of adoration.

Also Margaery stops glaring at Clegane whenever he’s around.

They also take great delight in pointing out how wonderful it is to date a close friend, someone with whom you already spend so much time.

“It’s so great being friends first,” Sansa says, gazing at Margaery with a look of awe. “They already know you so well. And you know them.”

Margaery smiles sweetly at her girlfriend. “And you get to kiss them.”

It’s sweet and well-intentioned and it makes her grind her teeth so hard she’s afraid she’ll actually hurt herself.

It’s only made worse by the fact that Jaime seems to want to spend even more time with her than ever. He’s texting or calling and trying to cajole her into coming over. No matter how much she reminds him that she has a job and responsibilities.

He even slips back into his old clothing-free habits, although the one time he answers the door without a stitch on she refuses to look at him or come in until he gets dressed. He still refuses to wear a shirt, which isn’t great for her sanity, but she’ll take what she can get.

Brienne usually hangs out at his place, but Jaime has started hinting that they could try hers for variety. She dismisses it as less practical, but really she’s terrified of the idea. There’s something about letting him into her private space that makes her worried that he’s going to crack through the walls she’s carefully constructed and spill her feelings out into the open and ruin everything.

It gets even worse after he gets his new hand.

The prosthetic is a state of the art device that can be controlled using the muscles in his arm. He’s spent a long time working with his therapists on being able to use it, but he calls her the second he gets the all-clear to take it home and demands she come over as soon as she possibly can.

It looks like something out of a science fiction movie and it comes with a flesh-colored silicon sleeve that is frankly creepy.

Jaime is so excited to show off the things he can do again and it's so amazing to see the joy on his face at being able to hold a pen or fork that she can’t deny him anything. She lets him demonstrate movement after movement, staying so late that she falls asleep in one of his (surprisingly comfortable) wingback chairs.

She wakes up in his bed.

It's disorienting - she knows as soon as consciousness hits that she's not in her own bed. For one thing, her mattress isn't nearly this comfortable. But there's also the fact that she pries her eyes open to see dark wine sheets instead of crisp white ones, that her nose is filled with the scent of Jaime's spicy cologne and the fresh pine scent of his soap.

Two thoughts slam into her brain at once.

The first is that she has no memory of getting from the armchair to his bed and she knows that she would remember if she'd stood up and walked. Breinne is usually a light sleeper, unless she’s somewhere she feels really safe. Then a bomb could go off next to her ear and she wouldn’t wake up.

Setting aside the thought that Jaime’s apartment apparently qualifies as safe enough for her to let her guard down, the only way to get here and not wake up would be if he carried her. Her stomach swoops at the thought.

Brienne hasn't been carried anywhere since she was a little girl. By twelve she was too tall and heavy for anyone to lift, even her dad. She tries not to let it bother her, but she sees the way other women get picked up and tossed around by their grinning boyfriends and she wonders what it would be like to feel that dainty and feminine.

Jaime is not her boyfriend, she reminds herself. They are not Sansa and Margaery, who fit together like the adorably Sapphic cover of a teen romance.

The second is that something - someone - is curled up around her. She's lying half on her stomach and there's a warm weight against her back, an arm looped around her waist. Jaime's legs are tangled with hers and as she takes in the situation she forgets to breathe for a few moments.

It’s not like she’s never shared a bed with another person, but there’s a difference between Renly passing out after an all nighter in college, snoring an arm’s length away, and the way Jaime is wrapped around her and invading all her senses. The intimacy of it hits her like a freight train.

She wants to leap out of the bed and run as far and as fast as she can.

She wants to never leave.

If she indulges herself by lying there and breathing in his scent for a few moments longer than is strictly necessary to sort out the situation, well, he's not awake to notice it.

He does wake up, though, when she starts trying to extricate herself. And instead of reacting with horror, he simply tightens his hold on her, fingers grasping the fabric of her shirt and burying his face in the back of her neck. She can feel his stubble sliding roughly on her skin. It sends shivers down her spine.

"'s early," he mumbles.

She ignores the low, gravely sound of his voice and focuses instead on prying his fingers off her shirt.

"Brieeeennne," he whines.

She stills. She assumed, at first, that he was mistaking her for someone else. (For Cersei, her mind supplies helpfully.)

“Stay,” he says, rubbing his chin along her skin and flattening his hand against her stomach.

The back of her neck prickles where his unshaven face has touched, the place where she can feel his breath against her feeling more sensitive than it ever has in her life.

Other parts of her body feel suddenly sensitive too, but she's trying very hard not to think about that.

It's entirely too tempting to give in and stay there, but that's only going to make the inevitable awkwardness worse, so Brienne firmly but gently frees herself from his grasp, ignoring his mumbled pleas to stay in bed and sleep.

She's in the living room pulling on her boots when he stumbles out, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. His hair is sticking up on one side and he’s yawning widely and it’s so adorable it hurts. He's shirtless and his pajama pants hang low on his hips and she's struck by the deep urge to run her hands (and tongue) along the dip of his hip.

It is truly unfair for anyone to look that good first thing in the morning.

Brienne declines his offers of coffee, makes what she hopes are coherent excuses for leaving and tries desperately to retain whatever shreds of sanity she has left.

Chapter Text

Her friends, when she spills the whole tale to them, are no help at all. It's gratifying that they arrived so quickly after her panicked phone calls, bearing gifts of wine (Margaery), ice cream (Sansa) and a massive container of cheese fries (Ygritte).

But none of them seem to grasp how this is going to go unavoidably and catastrophically wrong.

Sansa is dancing around the room with delight, Margaery keeps laughing and Ygritte merely regards her with a deadpan look.

"I don't see the problem," Ygritte says. "I mean, he looks like he knows where to put it."

Brienne's face turns scarlet.

"I told you he likes you," Margaery crows.

“It’s so romantic,” Sansa gushes. “Carrying you off to sleep like a princess.”

“That’s not what he was doing,” Brienne protests.

"He could have just left you in the chair to sleep,” Margaery says. “Or woken you up. Or taken the sofa for himself."

“Or used one of his guest rooms,” Ygritte points out. “He’s rich, there’s got to be at least three bedrooms in that place.”

"He wanted to have you in his bed," Sansa agrees. “With him.”

When they put it that way, it does seem like the logical conclusion, but it’s not something her brain can grasp.

"But he's ... he's Jaime," Brienne tries.

"Yes, he definitely is," Margaery agrees. "Jaime who barely leaves your side any time the two of you are together."

“Who hangs out with you constantly,” Ygritte says.

“Who calls and texts you every five minutes,” Margaery says.

"And who can't stop looking at you," Sansa adds.

“He does not.”

"He does,” Sansa insists. “And he follows you around the gym. It's kind of like a really hot puppy."

"And don't tell me he's out of your league," Margaery says before she can get the words out.

"But I can't... dating is ... I've never," Brienne starts. It's embarrassing to admit to her level of experience in her thirties. She doubts it surprises anyone but that doesn't make it any easier to say the words. "I mean I've only ever even been kissed a couple times."

"Well," Ygritte says. "Then you definitely want someone who knows where to put it."

Margaery throws a pillow at her. Sansa shrugs.

"I mean, Margaery's the first woman I've dated," she says. "And she hasn't minded."

"I most definitely have not," Margaery assures her, planting a kiss on her neck before turning back to Brienne. “It’s very fun to get to teach you.”

Sansa smiles sappily.

“I know it’s hard to trust someone,” Sansa says. “But Jaime likes you, he’s not going to be a jerk.”

“He talks a lot,” Ygritte muses. “I bet he’s good with his tongue. Jon does this thing that’s like,” and she opens her mouth and attempts to demonstrate on the air. Margaery looks fascinated.

“Ew,” Sansa says. “That’s my cousin.”

 Ygritte tilts her head. “Wonder if it’s a family skill?”

Margaery opens her mouth, looks at Sansa’s pink cheeks, closes it again.

“There are no tongues,” Brienne says firmly.

“Also, I’m pretty sure he got a boner last week when you were showing Renly how to get out of a choke hold,” Ygritte continues thoughtfully.

“Oh, that explains the pillow,” Margaery says. “And the pants coming back. Damn. I missed it.”

“He did not,” Brienne says. “That’s just ridiculous. Men do not get - I do not inspire men to - no.”

“You have a gorgeous man trying to get you into his bed,” Ygritte says. “You’re gonna have to get comfortable with dicks. Unless you want to join the pussy patrol over here.”

“They are prettier,” Sansa says. “Also, boobs.”

“Not my thing,” Brienne sighs. “Believe me, it would be easier if it were.”

She may be big and ugly, but she’s not stupid - she knows there are some women who are into the butch thing. She’d tried, in college, to convince herself that she could give it a go, but it only took one kiss to realize that she had zero interest in her own gender.

“Brienne, you’ve been holding out on us!” Margaery sounds delighted.

“It was one kiss in college,” Brienne says. “She was very pretty, but no.”

“I’m so proud of you,” Margaery says, looking misty-eyed. “I never knew you had it in you.”

“Yeah, but we’re talking about getting something else in her,” Ygritte interjects. “Namely, Lannister’s dick.”

Brienne shuts her eyes for a minute and prays for patience. “It’s not going to happen.”

“I don’t know how you can’t see the way he looks at you,” Sansa says. “It’s like a romantic movie.”

“It’s like the beginning of a porno,” Ygritte says. “There is some serious lusting going on.”

“He is not lusting!”

"Anyway, he apparently spent years in an incestuous relationship with HIS TWIN SISTER so if anything, you're too good for him," Margaery adds.

Brienne has to admit she has a point.

Chapter Text

The unfortunate thing is that falling asleep at Jaime's apartment and waking up with him clinging to her like an exceptionally friendly octopus is that it seems to have unlocked some sort of realization that he is allowed to touch her. And he does it all the time.

He throws an arm over her shoulder while they're hanging out, puts his head or feet on her lap, starts hugging her every time they meet. The amount of physical contact with such an attractive man is dizzying, but at the same time nothing else changes.

Sansa glows with delight when she mentions it and Margaery insists it’s proof, even though Briene tells her it’s not romantic.

Shae says she should just ask him, but Brienne can’t imagine how she’d manage to do that.

She's not sure what would be worse - him laughing and telling her he never intended anything more than friendship or him saying he wants something else and being faced with the prospect of learning how to actually date someone.

Everyone else, Brienne thinks miserably, got to figure this out when they were teenagers and awkwardness was expected. For a woman in her thirties it's just pathetic.

It doesn't help that the more he touches her, the more she craves it. She's never been a particularly tactile person and she’s gone through most of her adult life with minimal human contact. But now that it's there, she finds herself craving the weight and warmth of his arm around her, the way he pokes her side to get her attention, how she feels completely enveloped by him when they hug.

At the same time, nothing he does goes far enough to firmly indicate romantic interest. They don't hold hands like Margaery and Sansa, even if they walk close enough that their arms brush. They don't snuggle the way Renly and Loras do, pressed so close that it's hard to tell where one of them begins and the other ends. And they definitely don't act like Ygritte and Jon, who seem to constantly be groping each other when they think nobody is looking.

She makes sure to leave his apartment long before she’s starting to get tired, to avoid a repeat of the bed incident.

Brienne isn’t sure what drives her to invite Jaime to the farmer's market near her place. She goes most Saturdays and it’s lovely, but she’s never felt like bringing anyone along. Loras suggests that it’s because she’s inspired by all the adorable couples there.

She keeps saying they aren’t a couple but it doesn’t seem to make any difference to her friends.

Jaime moans about having to wake up so early on a weekend, but when he sees her waiting by the fountain his grin is blinding.

He's brought drinks too, absurdly sugary coffee for him ("But it's pumpkin pie season, wench!") and a Stormlands Fog for her. She's delighted to note that he is holding the tray with his prosthetic and it's not wobbling the slightest bit.

He makes fun of the hipster stalls they pass - “what in the seven hells is artisanal water?” - and gets far too deeply invested in an argument about proper cheese storage with one of the vendors, but it’s the most fun she’s had buying groceries in ages.

Even if he does get cranky about the amount of time she spends at her favorite vendor, trying the new samples.

“This one is pumpkin,” Bilal says, passing over a slice of flat bread topped with creamy spread, while Jaime crosses his arms and sighs.

Brienne closes her eyes to savor the flavor. “I think that might be my new favorite.”

Bilal grins at her. “You eat like a real Mereeni girl,” he says, preparing another sample. “Try the spinach one.”

Jaime clears his throat impatiently.

Brienne feels guilty for lingering and tries to decide what to pick up for the week while Bilal keeps coming up with new combinations for her to try.

“Oh, we’re getting a new Mereneese sausage in next week,” he tells her. “I’ll put some aside for you to try.”

“She doesn’t need any sausage,” Jaime says forcefully, hovering over her as she finishes paying.

Brienne rolls her eyes. “Stop being cranky, I’m almost finished.”

She just has one last vendor to visit, where she gives in to the lure of freshly baked bread and apple butter. They’re leaving when Jaime very pointedly mentions that she's spent loads of time in his apartment but he's never seen hers.

"That's because yours is nicer," she says, but naturally that makes no difference.

She finds herself almost holding her breath when they walk in. Her apartment is perfectly nice by most people's standards, but the Lannisters aren't exactly most people.

Jaime doesn't seem bothered, though, by the slightly-chipping white paint on the walls or battered furniture, or the fact that the entire thing could fit in his living room. She very firmly shuts the door to her bedroom before he can go in there, and he flops down on the sofa looking entirely too at home.

“So,” he says, kicking his feet up on the arm. “What pop culture milestones should you catch me up on today?”

They wind up streaming ridiculous horror movies, stopping only to order pizza. Jaime uses the break to poke at her collection of thrift store nicknacks and photos that she’s displayed. He seems particularly delighted with the small collection of stone animals her grandmother had given her, the kind that come in boxes of tea, and sets about arranging them into some sort of bizarre safari scene.

When they settle back down after clearing up from dinner, Jaime squishes close to her, arm draped around her shoulders, so they can both fit under one of the sturdy pink blankets her grandmother had loved knitting and freely bestowed on all of her relations.

He falls asleep like that, somewhere in the middle of a truly atrocious film about a possessed nun (or maybe a possessed nunnery? She’s not really sure) and Brienne doesn’t have the heart to wake him.

She disentangles herself as gently as she can, shoving a throw pillow under his head and tucking the blanket around him. He makes quite a sight, golden hair and tee shirt and jeans that still somehow look designer (and probably are), nestled on her faded sofa with a patchwork pillow and lacy acrylic blanket.

She expects to find him there when she wakes up, but she really should have known better. When the light coming through her curtains starts to stir her towards wakefulness, she finds that her bed is suddenly much fuller than it had been when she went to sleep.

She’s not sure when Jaime joined her, or how she didn’t wake up, but his golden head is nestled on her shoulder, one arm wrapped firmly around her waist, his leg thrown over hers.

He is warm and beautiful and smells like pine and clove, tan skin almost glowing against the white of her sheets. It feels so good waking up next to him like this that Brienne suddenly feels as if she’ll burst into tears.

She’s always wondered what it would feel to wake up to someone like this, and it’s better than she could have ever imagined, except for the knife edge of pain that comes with knowing it’s not real and for the rest of her life she’ll know what she is missing out on.

She doesn’t know if the light wakes him up too, or if it’s the way she tenses up. But his eyes blink open slowly, and he doesn’t move. Not until he catches the expression on her face, and then he’s frowning at her.

“What’s wrong?” His voice is raspy from sleep, deep and rumbling and it makes her nerves tingle down to her toes.

“Nothing,” she says weakly.

He goes up onto his elbows, looming over her now. His leg is still between hers, solid and warm and his face is only inches away. It’s unbearably intimate and she bites down harder on her lip.

His eyes are impossibly green and she feels like he’s seeing through everything she’s trying very hard not to let show. Blood rushes to her face.

“Brienne.”

“Really. I’m fine.”

He’s searching her face, and she knows he knows she’s lying.

“You can tell me, you know.”

“There’s nothing,” she insists.

He lowers his forehead closer to hers and her breath hitches before she can stop herself.

His eyes snap back to hers, intense, darting between her lips and her gaze.

“Brienne,” he says softly.

He’s moving closer still, slowly, so slowly and she’s struck by a feeling of wild terror. It’s as if he’s about to kiss her - her, Brienne Tarth - and as much as she knows she should stop him, she wants to do no such thing.

He raises his arm up, the stump brushing softly against her cheek and she can’t stop the shudder that runs through her at the feeling of his skin against hers, like sparks of electricity.

And that’s when he pulls away, so abruptly that he almost flings himself on the floor. Brienne barely has time to realize that he’s moved before he’s rushing out, muttering something about plans under his breath and leaving her staring at the closed door wondering what happened.

Chapter Text

Brienne is extremely grateful for the lengths her friends will go to cheer her up, she really is. She just wishes that their efforts didn’t include dragging her to a spa day, because Margaery and Sansa insist a good pampering is the best way to deal with confusing and inconsistent yet devastatingly attractive men.

At least she’s not the only one suffering - Sansa has dragged her sister along as well, insisting that Arya is having boy trouble too, despite the younger girl hotly insisting that no such thing is happening and she has no clue where Sansa would get the idea. “I can tell,” Sansa had told her, unperturbed. “We’re sisters. You don’t have to say anything, but if you tell me I could help you.”

The first part of the day isn’t so bad. Brienne’s never actually been to a spa before, and she feels terribly out of place in the luxurious setting, wrapped in a cushy white robe that barely comes to mid-calf instead of fitting nicely like it does on most of the women. (Arya’s trails behind her, which she seems to find equally humiliating.) But the sauna and tubs - which came in a variety of temperatures - were actually very nice and she can’t help finding herself melting into the heat.

“I’m gonna live here,” Shae declares, from where she is lying face down on a cedar bench. “Forever.”

It gets a little weird after that, as they soak in tubs of mud which Margaery swears up and down have properties that will draw impurities out of the skin and leave it soft. Ygritte says it makes her feel like one of her uncle’s pigs, and she hasn’t noticed their skin being particularly soft, though they are tasty.

Arya mutters something about stupid, pig-headed boys that she refuses to elaborate on.

Following the mud - and Brienne thinks that being sprayed down afterwards definitely makes her feel like some sort of livestock - they are herded towards a room and stretched on tables for an exfoliating treatment.

It’s a very polite way of saying torture, Brienne thinks, because she is set upon by a fierce elderly woman who attacks her with a rough cloth and salt scrub with a vigor that she would not have expected given her age and petite stature. It feels like being sandpapered and virtually no part of her is left untouched, as the woman brusquely maneuvers her limbs to scrub every nook and cranny. Even her scalp is scrubbed.

Brienne is horrified by the amount of greyish skin cells collected on the table when she gets up. She’s also faintly surprised to see that she has any skin left.

The subsequent massage is much more useful, if not entirely pleasant. The therapist is a young woman who looks like she’d be at home in the boxing ring and she uses all of those muscles to pummel the knots out of Brienne’s back.

She and Arya both flatly refuse the subsequent waxing treatment, ceding the spot to Gilly, who’s pregnancy meant skipping the full-body treatments and who is utterly thrilled. “I haven’t seen down there in weeks,” she mutters, peering down at her rapidly increasing belly. “There could be a herd of aurochs living in my crotch for all I know.”

It’s all been perfectly tolerable, but Brienne is now sitting in a chair with her hair wrapped in some sort of goo that’s supposed to make it softer while one of the most gorgeous women she’s ever seen stares intently at her face.

It’s absurd, no amount of facial mask is going to fix the unfortunate construction of her features, Brienne knows. Not the green tea and rose-scented mask to pamper delicate skin that’s painted on Margaery’s face, or the blueberry one that’s meant to soothe Sansa’s slightly sunburnt face. Nor will the deep cleansing honey mask Ygritte has, or the wrinkle-reducing avocado smeared on Gilly’s, or the citrus-y clarifying goop on Shae’s. Or the blemish-reducing oat and milk mask Arya has grudgingly allowed.

Brienne has no idea why all of the facial treatments are made from food.

“You have wonderful skin,” the aesthetician finally declares. “Truly. What products do you use?”

“Soap?” Brienne says. “And water?”

The woman - Ellaria, Brienne thinks her name is - squints at her again. “And you’re how old?” “Thirty-two.”

Ellaria sighs. “Some women have all the luck. I haven’t had skin like that since I was 18.”

Brienne highly doubts that, as the woman practically glows with beauty, but says nothing as a chamomile and lavender cream is spread thickly over her skin.

“This is nice,” Sansa says. “We should do this more often.”

“Not just when boys are being stupid,” Shae adds.

“Boys are always stupid,” Arya insists.

“Not Sam,” Gilly says dreamily from her chair. “Sam’s never stupid.”

Ygritte snorts.

“Why is Gendry stupid?” Shae asks Arya.

Sansa almost falls out of her chair as she cranes her neck to look at her sister.

“He called me pretty,” Arya finally mutters, setting her jaw.

Oh.

“But that’s a good thing?” Margaery says cautiously.

“Not when it’s not true. I don’t know why he’d do that.”

Everyone else looks perplexed, but Brienne gets it. Arya isn’t ugly like she is, but she isn’t pretty like the rest of them, either. She’s a tomboy, and Brienne knows once men see you as one of the guys they don’t often remember you’re a woman.

Depending on the circumstance, that can be wonderful or terrible.

“Arya, you are pretty,” Sansa says.

“Arya horseface?” Arya shoots back.

“We were kids!”

“You called me that until you were 17!”

“He stares at you like you’re the Maiden made flesh,” Shae says. “He’s not lying.”

“Though he is a building manager,” Sansa says. “And older than you. I mean, I’m sure he’s very lovely, but what future is there in that?”

“There’s nothing wrong with his job!” Arya says hotly.

“He’s studying at Kings Landing College,” Brienne says before they can start getting even more worked up. “Part-time, because he has to work. Double major in sculpture and education. He wants to be an art teacher.”

She’s fairly certain Arya knows this, and she’s also fairly certain she won’t say it just so she can keep winding Sansa up.

“What about his family?” Sansa asks.

“His mom died when he was a kid. Mostly he grew up in foster care,” Arya says, looking like she’s ready to fight Sansa on it.

She’s not going to have to, though, because Sansa’s a sucker for a sob story and she looks like she’s going to melt into her seat as soon as she hears that. Brienne suspects Gendry is going to be getting a lot of invites to Stark family functions very soon. He could use it, though. She’s gotten to know him and while he’s done very well given his circumstances, some parental-type love wouldn’t go amiss.

“Maybe you should try to believe he means it?” Brienne offers, tentatively.

She can’t hear exactly what Margaery mutters underneath the sound of Gilly and Ygritte’s sudden peals of laughter, but she’s pretty sure she gets the general idea.

Chapter Text

Brienne is worried about how awkward things will be around Jaime after that but she shouldn’t have bothered. When she gets to work on Monday, his apartment is dark and empty.

It’s empty again on Tuesday.

By Wednesday she caves into the gnawing anxiety that’s been growing ever since and calls Tyrion. He seems surprised to hear from her.

“Family emergency,” he explains. “I thought he’d have told you. Or you’d have seen the news.”

The latter is definitely unlikely, as Brienne doesn’t watch the kind of infotainment TV that tends to feature stories on the Lannisters and she says as much.

“Do you know who our sister is married to?” Tyrion asks. “Robert Baratheon.”

Okay, that news she has seen, given that it made the front page of the Kings Landing Times. Senator Robert Baratheon found dead after a strange and unexplainable hunting accident. But she’d seen no mention of his family or the Lannister name, not that she’d paid much attention.

Renly had taken off too, of course, hastily leaving her in charge. She remembers, now, that Loras had mentioned Robert was married to Cersei, once.

Brienne was a bit surprised that Renly was bothering, honestly. The brothers hadn’t spoken since he came out. Robert had said some unforgivable things, and Brienne is fairly sure the only reason he’d left to attend the funeral is because Stannis had dragged him after a long lecture on maintaining the family image.

It’s complicated, Tyrion tells her, but they probably won’t have to be there too much longer. He tells her that he’ll be sure to let Jaime know she called.

“No!” Brienne blurts out. “I mean. You don’t need to. It’s nothing.”

“He’s been worried,” Tyrion tells her. “He’ll be thrilled to know you’re still speaking to him.” And with that he hangs up. Brienne stares at her phone, anger starting to grow. He’s worried? She doesn’t know what made him crawl into her bed to sleep or forget who he was in there with, but he’s the one who acted like he’d been burned just by touching her.

It had felt, for a short moment, as if he’d seen something in her - the things Margaery and Sansa apparently see but she never can. It felt like he’d been about to kiss her, the air sparking with electricity.

Until.

She knows she’s ugly, but she and Jaime have been friends long enough she thought he’d managed to be less disgusted than most men. Or at least to hide it better.

None of that disappointment stops her from being relieved to come in the next week and see lights in Jaime’s apartment. What surprises her the most is that when she sets eyes on his living room, not only is he fully clothed, shirt and all, but he’s accompanied by two young, blond children. They’re sitting stiffly on the furniture, looking terribly bored.

She remembers Sansa talking about younger kids - neither of them can be Joffrey, they both look under ten, so these must be Cersei’s other two children. Though why they’re with Jaime, she has no idea.

She catches Jaime watching her through the window one time, but she looks away when he tries to get her attention.

Lunch confirms her theory. The boy has been glancing across the way on and off all day but when he sees Renly he presses his face against the window and waves wildly.

Renly waves back at the boy and his sister, who has joined him with wide eyes, before slumping into one of the chairs.

“God, this is such a shit show,” he mumbles. Loras pets his hair gently.

“What happened?” Margaery demands. “You haven’t told me ANYTHING.”

It’s just the five of them today - Loras, Renly, Margaery, Sansa and Brienne - and Loras gets up and closes the door and locks it before Renly will answer.

“Cersei killed Robert,” Renly says bluntly.

Brienne is the only one who looks surprised.

“I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner,” Sansa says in a tone entirely unlike her. “Joffrey?”

“He helped,” Renly says. “Or he did it, I guess. The actual killing.”

“No way he did it without Cersei’s help,” Margaery says. “He’d be, what, fourteen now?”

There is something very, very wrong with the Lannister family, Brienne decides.

Renly nods, burying his face in his hands.

“They’ve managed to keep it quiet for now. I never thought I’d say this, but may the gods bless Lannister money.”

“They’ve both been admitted to a psychiatric hospital for now,” Loras adds. “I’d say it’s just Tywin trying to keep them out of jail, but I’m pretty sure they actually belong there.”

“The problem is the kids,” Renly continues. “Cersei may not have liked Myrcella and Tommen as much as Joff, but she’s not exactly willing to give them up. And Robert’s will has gone mysteriously missing.”

Margaery snorts.

“Leaving them with Tywin would be hard to hide and that means the story could leak out,” Loras says. “Also, nobody in their right mind wants him raising another generation of fucked up Lannisters.”

“Tywin doesn’t want them anywhere near us, of course,” Renly says. “But Jaime and Tyrion don’t have any clue what to do. And Stannis …”

“Is Stannis.” Loras fills in.

He has a daughter, Brienne knows, but she still can’t picture Stannis interacting with children. Certainly not grieving ones.

“Besides they hardly know any of us,” Renly says. “I’d never even met them until last week. And nobody else has seen much more of them. Cersei never let them out of her sight, not even with family.”

“What’s going to happen?” she asks.

“Right now, we’re taking turns.” Renly shrugs. “A week each. At least until we can figure out a long term solution.”

“It’s probably a terrible idea but nobody had a better plan. At least everyone will get a break,” Loras says. “And they’re in private school so we don’t have to worry about that.”

Chapter Text

As much as she knows it’s a terrible idea, Brienne doesn’t protest when Sansa drags her off to the nearest toy store to help put together a box for the kids and Jaime. She’s certain that the Lannisters must already own every possible toy children could want and don’t need more.

“They have every toy Cersei thinks they should want,” Sansa says, piling craft supplies in a basket. “As long as it’s not loud, messy, or tacky-looking.”

She shoves a large stuffed cat at Brienne.

“She had strict rules about what was acceptable, and what they wanted was irrelevant. I’ve never seen kids so scheduled and I’ve been babysitting since I was ten.”

Brienne thinks of her own childhood, running around on the beaches of Tarth.

“They didn’t get to pick anything out on their own and she had no idea what they actually liked. Myrcella loves science, but that was too academic, of course.”

Brienne quietly adds a package of glow-in-the-dark stars to the basket.

“And Tommen, Tommen loves art.” Sansa throws some kids’ science kits in to the basket as well. “And cats. But those aren’t for boys.”

Brienne starts adding books to the pile, titles she remembers from her own childhood.

Sansa lays waste to the DVD section as well, flinging every animated movie she can find into the mix. Brienne spies a few of her favorite films and adds those too - ones she doubts Jaime or Tyrion will have seen.

She’s pretty sure The Princess Bride will blow both of their minds.

They have to call Pod and Sam to help carry everything they’ve found back to the office, where Sansa starts dividing things up into piles for each brother - though the one for Stannis is the smallest and consists largely of books.

“My brother has a giant stick up his ass, but he loves Shireen,” Renly says. “He has to have kid appropriate things hidden somewhere.”

Brienne isn’t sure what method Sansa is using to sort things, but she gets rather growly when anyone tries to interfere, though she does concede to Renly when he flatly refuses to take more than one Disney movie on the grounds that the songs drive him insane. Loras pouts at that, but picks Mulan on account of the swords.

By the time Brienne’s day is ending, Sansa is back in her office having somehow procured a very nice wicker basket that she’s loading with goodies.

“Now,” Sansa says brightly. “Renly already has his share of course, and Shae is taking Tyrion’s over, she was going anyway. We drew straws and Loras is going to deliver Stannis’ box. So you can take Jaime’s over -”

“No.” Brienne says.

“You’re the one who’s friends with him,” Sansa argues. “And you haven’t seen him since before.”

“Since he ran away from me in horror at my ugly face,” Brienne supplies.

“You don’t know that.” Sansa says. “Anyway, you can’t avoid him forever and if you let it go on too long it will get awkward.”

It’s already plenty awkward. Nevertheless, Brienne finds herself standing outside Jaime’s door holding a very large basket crammed with children’s toys.

He’s clearly surprised to see her, and instead of letting her in like usual, he angles his body to block the way and closes the door slightly behind him. She understands why he wouldn’t want to explain her to the kids, but it still makes her heart drop.

“Brienne. I …” he clears his throat. “I’m sorry, I should have called.”

“It’s fine,” she says.

“I’d love to invite you in, but -”

“Renly told me,” she interrupts. “I get it.”

“Right.”

He casts a curious glance at the basket, which has the stuffed cat peeking over the edge, and she remembers why she’s here.

“For the kids,” she says, shoving it at him.

Jaime stares at it with the same look of confusion that he’d given the stuffed lion. “You didn’t have to.”

“Sansa was worried they’d be bored. Renly and Tyrion are getting one too, and even Stannis,” she explains. “She seemed to have … opinions about your sister’s parenting.”

She thinks she sees his face fall a little at that, but surely she’s imagining it.

“Right,” he says, voice subdued. “Sansa. Of course.”

A traitorous part of her brain whispers that he looked much happier when he’d thought the gift was from her, and she pushes it aside quickly.

“You should,” she motions for him to put the basket down and digs around in it until she uncovers the copy of Free Willy she’d picked out. “This was my favorite as a kid. You should watch it. I mean, if you want.”

He smiles at that, and takes it from her, glancing at the cover. Their fingers brush and she’s instantly reminded of the feel of his arm around hers and how good it felt to touch his skin.

“Thank you,” he says.

She should turn around and go, really she should but he’s still smiling at her and she’s smiling back instead of remembering that he was so horrified by her that he ran away. She doesn’t know how long they would have stood there like that, but Myrcella yells for Uncle Jaime from inside and he has to go.

Brienne walks away feeling even more confused than she was before.

Chapter Text

The living room takes on a layer of clutter over the next week, she can see, and she even gets a text from Jaime thanking her for bringing the toys over. Tommen has taken to lugging the toy cat everywhere he goes, and it’s a very different spectacle than she’s used to seeing.

She doesn’t hear anything else from him, though, even after the kids move on to the next uncle in rotation. Brienne catches him looking her way sometimes, but she can’t decipher the expression on his face.

There was a time she would have just shown up after work, bearing takeout, but it feels too weird now. She keeps replaying that morning over in her head, the seconds where she thought she saw something like desire in his eyes, only to have it replaced by the horror she’s used to men showing when confronted with her face.

Ygritte says she should tell him why she’s mad, but that would mean telling him what she’d thought was happening, so she doesn’t. It will hurt less with time, she tells herself.

Brienne's surprised to get a text a few days before Warrior's Day asking her to meet him for the parade at the Dragon Pit.

She says yes against her better judgment.

When she shows up, he has the kids in tow. Myrcella and Tommen are excited to meet her, especially when they figure out she knows all of their uncles. They get even more excited when they realize that she and Jaime are both tall and strong enough to carry a child on their shoulders so they can see above the crowd.

The kids are clutching steaming cups of hot cocoa and casting longing looks towards the vendors hawking various souvenirs when Jaime clears his throat.

"So," he says, staring rather intently at his cup. "I'm sorry."

"Okay?"

Jaime looks at her, then stops and tells the kids to go see what they want to buy, then resumes staring at his coffee.

He tries again. "For what happened. Before I left.”

“It’s fine,” she says stiffly. So much for ignoring it.

“I can explain,” he starts.

“You don’t have to,” she says. “I’m used to it.”

Jaime gives her a strange look, then takes a deep breath and keeps going. “I know it's unsightly and I didn't realize I had taken off my hand before I touched you and ..."

Brienne blinks. Without thinking about it, she raises a hand to her cheek and slowly starts connecting the dots. That's what he was upset about? That he'd touched her with his stump?

Everything she thought about why he’d been avoiding her suddenly shifts and she feels terribly off-balance.

"I wasn't bothered," Brienne says quietly. "I've seen you without your hand before, you know."

He shrugs. "That doesn't mean it's easy to look at. Or that you want it to... touch you."

His voice hitches weirdly on the last two words.

"I thought it was me."

His head snaps up. "What?"

Brienne suddenly finds her own cup extremely fascinating.

"That you thought I was - someone else. And then you saw me and, well," she waves a hand in the general direction of herself.

“I knew who you were,” he says, voice dipping low again.

“I know my face is,” she starts, then pauses to search for the right word.

"There's nothing wrong with your face."

He steps closer to her, so close she can feel the warmth radiating from his body. She can't bring herself to look at his face, so she focuses her gaze down past it, filling her vision with the sight of his chest in a close-fitting red sweater that doesn't do very much to hide the muscle definition he has.

It's a very nice chest.

"Brienne," He puts his hand - the real one - on her cheek gently, forcing her to look at him. "Would you like to have dinner with me sometime?"

"Yes?"

He clears his throat again. "I mean, as a date."

Brienne's stomach lurches violently and she knows she's turning a brilliant shade of crimson. Any thought that he’s joking dies when she realizes he actually looks nervous.

"Yes," she says again.

He grins at her then, and she smiles back and the two of them stand there for several moments beaming stupidly at one another, his thumb absently tracing back and forth along her cheekbone.

Then Myrcella comes over and grabs Jaime and drags him towards one of the carts. When they come back, Myrcella has a tiara perched lopsidedly on her head, Tommen is clutching a balloon and all three of them are holding lighted sparkling ... wand things.

Jaime hands one of the sparkly things to her and she eyes it skeptically before hoisting Tommen up onto her shoulders to watch. Jaime does the same with Myrcella and both kids cheer excitedly as the first floats kick things off.

She's always liked the Warrior's day parade. The groups of veterans, the spirited marching bands, the sporting and fighting groups performing choreographed routines down the street. She thinks she sees Arya with one of the groups that is engaged in an extremely acrobatic martial art.

Other entries seem to have very little, if anything, to do with the Warrior but they’re still fun. Dancers and community groups and her favorite high-stepping horses from Dorne.

She usually watches from the roof of her building, and it’s different being in the crowd, waving their sparkly wands in enthusiastic support. Tommen and Myrcella cheer for everything, though Tommen seems particularly taken with any group that includes animals.

If Jaime quietly hands Myrcella his wand and slips his hand into hers halfway through, that just makes it even better.

Chapter Text

Brienne feels entirely queasy as she waits for Jaime to pick her up - he’d insisted on it, no matter how much she rolled her eyes at him and pointed out that she was perfectly capable of getting places on her own.

She’d managed to avoid Margaery’s attempts to shove her into a dress and heels and firmly prohibited any makeup beyond mascara and tinted lip balm. But she still feels incredibly self-conscious and her mind keeps drifting back to all the things people have told her over the years.

Don’t try to look pretty like other girls, her Septa had always lectured. An ugly girl who tries too hard just makes everyone feel sorry for her. Just do your best to blend into the background.

When the doorbell rings, she has a moment where she considers just not answering and hiding in the back of her bedroom until everything goes back to normal, but she braces herself and answers anyway.

At least Jaime doesn’t seem visibly disappointed as his gaze sweeps her up and down.

“Hi,” he says.

“Hi,” she responds awkwardly.

Well, they’re off to a great start.

“I was going to bring you flowers, but Sansa told me that would be a bad idea,” he tells her.

She flinches.

“Sansa’s right.”

“So I don’t lose points for showing up empty-handed?”

“No.”

He offers her his arm as if they’re in an old fashioned movie and off they go to his Town Car - because of course he has a car and driver - where he refuses to tell her where they’re heading.

“It’s a surprise.”

“I don’t like surprises,” she mutters.

He pulls a face at her. “Good to see you’re still boring, wench.”

Normally, she would tease him back but her stomach is so full of nerves she can only offer a weak smile.

He coughs and looks down at his hands.

The silence grows heavier and increasingly awkward until they pull up at a restaurant Brienne hasn’t seen before. It’s cute, not nearly as fancy as she feared, with a bright red and white striped awning and window boxes filled with geraniums.

It’s Dornish, mostly pasta, which, she realizes after their food is delivered and Jaime rests his prosthetic hand on the table, is something that he can manage one-handed.

It’s delicious, but Brienne can only pick at her food and she suddenly has trouble formulating answers to the questions Jaime asks her. Gone is the easy conversation they’ve always had and she knows, she knows she’s going to screw this up, but all she can think about are the ways this could end in her humiliation.

Jaime sighs.

“You didn’t have to say yes if you didn’t want to,” he says.

“What?” Brienne drops her fork. “No, I mean yes, I mean. I did want to be here. I do.”

“It doesn’t seem like it.”

She forces herself to lift her gaze from the table and feels even worse when she sees the disappointment written clearly on his face.

“I’m ruining it, aren’t I?” She sighs. “I’m sorry.”

“I mean, if I did something wrong,” he tries.

“No! You didn’t! I just - I don’t know what I’m doing.”

“We’ve had dinner before,” he says, like he’s trying to puzzle it out.

Well, she might as well come out with it.

“Yes, but - that was us.”

“We’re still us,” he says slowly.

“Yes, but this is … I don’t date, Jaime. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do here and I like you and I don’t want to screw it up but then I just keep getting so nervous that I’m screwing it up anyway.”

The disappointment is starting to clear from his face and a smile tugs at the corner of his lips. “You like me?”

“Oh, yes, that’s what you focus on.”

“Well it is a pretty essential component of the whole date thing.”

He sets down his own fork and reaches across the table to take her hand.

“Brienne, I haven’t done this either,” he says. “There was only ever Cer - there was only ever one woman in my life. And, well.”

You can’t exactly take your twin sister out on public dates, she fills in mentally.

“I’m sorry,” she says again. “I wanted this to go well.”

“It still can,” he declares. “Let’s get out of here.”

“But - “

“Change of scenery, come on,” he insists, flagging the server over to get the check. Brienne gets a to-go box for her meal - if she takes it home maybe she’ll be able to actually taste it when she’s not nervous - even though it makes him roll his eyes.

Jaime passes the box over to the driver to hold in the car before tugging her away. “Let’s walk,” he says.

It’s a pretty neighborhood, one she hasn’t spent much time in, full of small shops and restaurants. Jaime starts tossing out comments about people they pass, suggesting outrageous backgrounds and scenarios for them.

It reminds her of the summer’s bonfire and she can’t help laughing.

“I’m serious,” he insists. “That woman is definitely a top-secret spy.”

The woman in question is 90 years old if she’s a day, settled on a park bench with a thick shawl wrapped around her even though there’s only a small chill in the air.

“I think spies are supposed to be able to move around,” Brienne says. “And see.”

“That’s why it’s such an excellent disguise!”

He links his elbow with hers and steers her down one of the paths into the park. Slowly, the knot of nerves in her stomach begins to ease. This is familiar ground, not a restaurant where she can feel eyes on them, wondering what on earth a man like him would be doing with her.

The park is lovely too, the trees bursting with fall color and leaves crunching underneath their feet.

“I used to love jumping in leaves,” she says. “My dad says my brother and I would make such a mess he had to rake them six times, but it was worth it to see us having so much fun.”

“You have a brother?”

“Had a brother,” she corrects. “Galladon. He was two years older than me. When I was six he got caught in a rip tide at the beach one day. Dad tried, but he couldn’t reach him in time.”

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“I barely remember him, honestly.” This probably isn’t the type of thing you’re supposed to talk about on dates. “I think I miss the idea of him more than anything.”

They walk in silence a bit after that, but it’s less awkward than before. Until Jaime spots a playground and of course insists on them taking a turn on the swings. She hasn’t been on a swing since she was a kid, and he has to convince her they won’t break it with their combined weight.

It’s fun, though, and she does feel like a kid again.

They only stop when her stomach growling breaks the silence, sending Jaime into peals of laughter. There are plenty of cafes on the other side of the park when they emerge, but she coaxes him into trying a street cart selling soft corn pancakes stuffed full of pork and cheese.

She’s not at all shocked to learn that he was always forbidden from eating food sold by street vendors.

By the time they arrive back at her building she’s feeling cautiously optimistic that she hasn’t managed to completely destroy everything. Jaime insists on walking her up to her door, but he stops just over the threshold as she goes to store the leftover pasta in her fridge.

“I should go,” he says. “But I would like to do this again.”

“Me too.”

Before she can lose her nerves, she hugs him - like they always do, but it feels different now - and he pulls her tight against him for a long moment.

When he pulls back, he looks nervous.

“I would like to kiss you,” he says so quietly she almost misses it.

“Okay,” she answers.

Brienne winces internally. Okay? That’s the best response her brain can come up with?

He doesn’t seem to mind though, and leans in to brush his lips against hers.

It’s soft, chaste - nothing like the aggressive, sloppy kisses that had been forced on her in high school. His lips are smooth and gentle and taste faintly like the fried pork from their meal. It’s quick, not giving her time to panic about not knowing what to do, but it makes her feel warm down to her toes. He does it again and again, three times before he steps back.

She thinks she can taste him on her lips for hours after he leaves.

Chapter Text

The second date goes less terribly. She’s still a bundle of nerves before they meet, but the fact that he’s told her to wear workout clothes makes her feel more at home.

They go for a trail run along one of the trails that goes up Aegon’s Hill, down the other side and winding up along the shore. They race each other for most of it, and they’re panting from exhaustion by the time they reach the water and declare it a tie. Jaime slips his hand in hers as they walk back towards town, and she’s slightly ashamed of how giddy she gets at the gesture.

He kisses her again before she heads back home.

For their third date, they go to a special exhibit at the Red Keep Museum on Age of Heroes weaponry and spend an unreasonable amount of time gazing at swords. There’s even a replica of Oathkeeper, and a collection of new research positing that the sword was a gift, perhaps from Ser Brienne’s still-unknown paramour.

“See,” she says triumphantly, recalling one of their first arguments. “They do think it was a gift.”

Jaime winds his arm around her waist, pulling her close. She can’t help but glance around to see if anyone notices, bracing herself for laughter or comments.

“So do you know the secret of who loved the Lady Ser?”

She shakes her head. “She refused to say who fathered her child, and no record has been found. Not even in the family papers. Some think it was a Wildling.”

“And you’re named for her.”

“My father was named for hers, one of the great Evenstars of Tarth. He thought it was funny.”

“Maybe he just knew you’d grow up to be as fierce as you are.”

That evening, when he kisses her, it’s deeper and slower and Brienne feels like she can’t catch her breath with how good it feels. She grips his shoulders with her hands, wondering what she’s supposed to be doing with them, but forgetting to care as he sucks on her bottom lip before pulling away.

They can’t agree if sailing is their fourth or fifth date. Jaime insists that finally agreeing to go to Selmy’s again counts, she insists that it doesn’t because they’ve been working out together (whether she agreed to it or not) literally since they met.

“By that logic, we’ve been dating since June,” she says, exasperated. He grins.

Whether it’s the fourth or fifth, Jaime mocks her mercilessly for having grown up on an island and never learning to sail as they board the family yacht. Because of course the Lannisters have a yacht. Never mind that she can operate large fishing boats, not to mention kayaks and canoes.

Sailing, she informs him, is for rich people. Jaime smirks and tells her to get used to it before anchoring the boat in a quiet cove and pulling her down onto the deck where they end up making out for what seems like hours. Brienne learns how good it feels to have his lips on her skin, tracing burning paths along her neck, and that his hair is as soft as it looks.

He murmurs encouragement as she tentatively kisses him, finally, tasting the saltiness of his skin. She learns that kissing under his ear makes him moan, and sucking on the same spot causes a whole body shudder that sends a thrill of power and arousal through her.

They only stop when it becomes clear the redness on her skin isn’t just from blushing and they need to get back to shore before she turns into a boiled lobster.

Brienne still gets nervous about showing affection in public. Being with Jaime feels wonderful, but that doesn’t mean she can’t hear the confused comments from strangers who wonder why he’s with her. Even if he can’t seem to hear them. She thinks those people must wonder even more when they see how fumbling and inexperienced she is, how clearly awkward.

Jaime, on the other hand, will kiss her anywhere. Pressed up against a tree when they’re walking through the park, in line for the movies, waiting outside for his car, in the alley next to Hot Pie’s when Renly insists they show up for brunch and they are subjected to knowing smirks and sly comments from her friends.

He talks, too, which shouldn’t surprise her but it does. Brienne hasn’t spent a lot of time thinking about what making out with someone would be like, not really, but if Jaime’s mouth isn’t occupied, he’s using it to tell her all the things he’s thinking. How much he likes her mouth (she blushes), wondering how many freckles she has and if he could kiss them all (it would probably take years), telling her he’s dreamed about her like this, his to touch (she has a brief surge of feminist anger at his possessiveness but it passes quickly).

She nearly combusts with embarrassment the day he tells her about one of those dreams, running his tongue along the shell of her ear and whispering how good her skin tastes and how he’s wondered if she tastes that sweet everywhere. That doesn’t stop the small moan that escapes her lips at the idea, and he groans in response and tells her, in great detail, about the times he’s imagined what she would sound like falling apart underneath him.

She finds herself thinking about what he said for a very long time.

Chapter Text

It surprises Brienne how much she can miss someone in just seven days.

She’s gotten so used to seeing Jaime - to kissing Jaime, to touching Jaime - during the three weeks of dates, but when it’s his turn to host his niece and nephew they are limited to text messages and heated glances through the window.

It’s not that he doesn’t want her spending time with them, he explains, but he’s not sure he could keep his hands off her and that’s not something they need to see.

She’s still somewhat surprised, however, when the week ends and she arrives at Jaime’s for their latest date and the kiss he gives her in greeting becomes two, then three, increasingly heated until he pulls her inside instead of heading towards the door.

Her jacket gets discarded somewhere by the entrance and so does his, and then they’re on his couch, wrapped around each other, his lips leaving a hot, desperate trail down her neck.

“Missed you so much,” he manages to get out between kisses, before biting down gently at the juncture of her neck and shoulder.

Brienne shudders against him, one hand gripping his hair tightly as she tries to maneuver his head back up.

“I’ve missed you, too,” she manages, before crashing their lips together again.

She still can’t get used to this, the way he wants to kiss her so often and so deeply. Not seeing him for a week hasn’t helped - she’s had plenty of time to think about all the things she’s probably doing wrong and all the things she doesn’t know.

Practice, he’d told her, when she apologized for her inexperience, and he seems to be thoroughly dedicated to the matter. He’s been very good about not being pushy; for all the scandalous things he says to her and all the times he kisses her, he’s kept his hands in (mostly) innocent places and pulled back before they got to a point that made her uncomfortable.

This is rapidly headed somewhere else.

Brienne kisses her way along his jaw, stopping to suck on the spot under his ear that makes him groan in a way that lights all her nerves on fire.

She loves that she can make him sound like that, that he likes what she’s doing, as inexpert as it may be. He settles on top of her, weight pressing her down into the cushions, and she sighs at the solid warmth of his body.

Jaime snakes his hand under her sweater and shirt, sliding it up her side to the edge of her bra and Brienne arches into the touch. “So good,” he mumbles against her hair, sliding his other arm around her back and using it to support her. He still tries not to touch her with his prosthetic hand, but he’s getting more comfortable with it.

Brienne is suddenly struck by the need to feel more of his skin on hers, and before she can think too much about it she’s pulling her sweater and shirt off in quick succession.

She has a quick moment of wishing she’d worn something nice underneath, not the white cotton bralette that she has to buy in the junior’s section, but Jaime doesn’t seem to mind. At least not if the way his eyes glaze over before he’s dipping his head and kissing his way over her collarbone. “Love your skin,” he says against her ribs. “Love your freckles.”

Every place his lips touch sends a jolt of heat straight to her core and she twists restlessly beneath him. She wants him everywhere, all at once and she can’t stop the whimper that escapes her.

An even louder noise is torn from her throat when he reaches her chest and sucks a nipple into his mouth. “Pretty,” he breathes, his breath causing it to harden even more. Even with the fabric of her bra between them, it feels amazing and she claws at his shirt in a desperate attempt to uncover more skin.

He lifts his head long enough to get his shirt off before dropping back down to resume kissing his way around the edges of her bra.

The muscles in his back feel exactly as amazing as she’s imagined as she clutches at him with one hand, sliding the other down his (really very impressive) arm.

One of his fingers slips under the elastic of her bra, tracing gently along the underside of her breast.

“Can I take this off?” he whispers, looking back up at her with eyes dark with lust.

She nods, biting her lip, and lending a hand when he struggles to try and remove it one-handed. He groans low in his throat at the sight of her, kissing her fiercely before he pushes her back down again and latches onto her breast like he’s trying to fit the entire thing into his mouth.

Brienne moans out loud when he tugs one nipple gently between his teeth as he sucks. She’s never really paid that much attention to her breasts, beyond wishing they were larger, but it now feels like there’s a direct connection to her groin and she bucks her hips up against him without thinking.

She can feel him grin against her skin before switching sides. Every suck and pull winds her even higher, making her move against him in an attempt to get as much skin to skin contact as she possibly can.

He shifts them so he can wedge his leg between hers, pressing his thigh up against her where she aches the most. When she writhes against him again, he grinds back and suddenly she realizes she can feel him against her hip, hard and hot.

It’s enough to cut through the haze of lust that’s surrounded them and she tenses, realizing suddenly exactly how far things have gone.

He must feel it because Jaime pulls off her breast with a sigh and moves so he’s hovering over her for a surprisingly gentle kiss.

“So,” he says, leaning his forehead against hers. “We don’t have to do anything more than this.”

“I’m sorry -”

“Stop apologizing.” He sneaks another kiss. “This is only fun if we’re both enjoying it.”

She shivers as he runs his hand along her side.

“But,” he continues. “We have options.”

“Options?”

“One. We can stop here, sit back up, put our clothes on and go out like we planned.”

“Or..”

“Or we can keep going like this, nothing more.” He punctuates his sentence by rolling his hips against her and she can’t help from arching up in response.

“I …”

He waits patiently. “It’s up to you.”

He’s so close they’re sharing the same breath and all she can feel is the thrum of want that goes through her. She thrusts against him without thinking.

“This is good.”

“Oh thank the gods,” he says, before kissing her hungrily.

He lowers more of his weight onto her as they kiss, and she whines into his mouth and tugs at him until he’s resting fully on top of her. He keeps his prosthetic hand behind her shoulders but his real hand is busy running all over all the skin she has exposed.

Hers aren’t idle either, and she lets herself enjoy the way his muscles ripple under her hands, how soft his skin feels under her palms, clutching at his bicep and running the other hand over his chest. The noise he makes when she runs her thumb over one of his nipples has her trying to pull him even closer with her leg.

Her world narrows to the feelings he’s creating in her. The way his chest hair rubs against her breasts, his lips and tongue on hers, the small sounds he makes in his throat. His leg is firm between hers and she forgets to worry about what she must look like as she pushes against it, seeking pressure where she needs it the most.

Everything builds and builds, it feels so good, so much better than anything she’s done by herself, the push and pull between them and the heat and the way he just surrounds her.

“It’s okay,” he murmurs between kisses. “Let go, it’s okay.”

She’s kissing him again when he shifts just right and brushes a thumb over her nipple and suddenly she’s there, feeling nothing but the insistent rhythm of his hips against hers and pleasure rolling through her in waves as she moves helplessly against him.

When she pulls her mind back to awareness, Jaime is collapsed on top of her, breathing heavily into her neck. With great effort, she lifts one hand to pet his hair gently.

“That was …” she starts.

“So good,” he replies, still panting slightly as he tries to tug her even more tightly against him.

“You weren’t ... disappointed?”

Jaime lifts his head slightly to look up at her. “I was extremely not disappointed.”

He runs his hand along her side again, and she’s suddenly aware that they’re both still topless. On the couch in Jaime’s living room. Which, as she well knows, can be viewed from the building across the street.

He chuckles. “All that and now you blush?”

Brienne looks over at the window. “Anyone could have seen us.”

“In your office on a Saturday? Who’s going to be there?” He pulls back. “Although I have been extremely curious as to how far down your blush goes ….”

“Jaime!”

“What? It’s very fascinating.” He traces along ribs and side with his fingers, staring intently.

“We should get dressed,” she tries.

“Do we have to?”

She sighs. “Clothes. And food.”

His stomach growls, as if to agree with her.

“Fine, fine. So demanding, wench.” He stands, hauling her to her feet with him and kissing her again. They stand there like that for several moments, exchanging deep kisses before he pulls himself away to go change, gesturing at the wet spot on the front of his jeans - and oh, she hadn’t realized that. Brienne blushes darker at the thought as she collects her top and sweater, but she can’t keep the smile off her face.

Chapter Text

Brienne is fairly certain that there isn’t a neon sign that says I ALMOST LOST MY VIRGINITY ON JAIME LANNISTER’S COUCH hanging above her head, but somehow Sansa and Margaery figure out something happened right away. Renly isn’t far behind.

She demurs on giving out most of the details, but anything she says is enough to make them grin wickedly at her and start giving her tips, most of which she is vaguely horrified to even consider carrying out.

Loras just wants to know if that means Jaime will go back to his nudist ways instead of sticking to jeans.

She’s more forthcoming with Gilly later in the week. It’s not that Brienne is worried, precisely, but she’s never really had much occasion to consider the actual possibility of having sex, and she figures who better to ask than a nurse.

Gilly unceremoniously shoves a handful of condoms across the table.

“For the love of the gods, whatever you do, use birth control,” she says. “All the birth control.”

“I. Okay.”

“My ankles are swollen. My back hurts. I can’t see my feet. Sam tried to kiss me the other day and we couldn’t reach because my stomach was in the way,” Gilly continues. “And I still have over two months to go.

Brienne thinks the size of Sam’s stomach probably had something to do with that as well, but mentioning it seems like a bad idea.

Baby-related woes aside, Gilly’s actually very reassuring. Brienne doesn’t know much about Gilly’s past, but what she does know tells her that it’s not much better than hers. Sam seems to be the first decent man she’s met and she talks about him as if he’s a knight in shining armor instead of a bumbling software engineer who trips over his words any time he’s around her.

“Sam and I haven’t done it yet either,” Gilly says bluntly.

“Really?”

“I don’t want our first time to be while I feel like a beached whale.”

“And he’s okay with everything?”

“He says he is.” Gilly picks at her salad. “I worry that it’ll change when the baby comes, but he swears it won’t.

“He talks about you all the time,” Brienne says, hoping it’s not a betrayal of his trust. “I think the entire office could recite a list of 100 Reasons Gilly is Awesome.”

Gilly grins at her. “I never thought I’d meet a man as sweet as he is. He’s just so good. Sometimes I feel like I’m just waiting for the truth to come out and find out he’s as bad as the rest of them.”

“I know that feeling.” Brienne takes a sip of her tea. Well, there’s plenty of bad she knows about Jaime, objectively speaking. But that’s not the same as some of the things that men have done to her. “Do you think they are as good as they seem?”

“I do,” Gilly says finally. “I mean, someone has to be, right?”

And that’s the thing. Despite all of the things in his past and the way he’d mocked her at first, Jaime is good. Even his initial behavior was, Brienne is realizing, his way of trying to make friends.

She doesn’t know what is wrong with Jaime’s father, but he clearly failed at teaching his children how to behave like normal humans.

The next time Jaime has the kids, he invites her over for dinner and Myrcella and Tommen stare curiously at her as she tries to remember how you’re supposed to interact with children. They’re in the dining room - a room Brienne has never set foot in before, because Jaime seems to exist almost entirely in the living room, eating a meal that’s been delivered by some chef the Lannisters have hired to deliver a weekly supply of pre-cooked food. It’s the fanciest beef stew Brienne has ever had.

Myrcella frowns at her. “Are you marrying Uncle Jaime?”

Brienne turns beet red as Jaime jumps into explain that they’ve only just started going out.

Myrcella looks back and forth between them. “But mom says you can’t trust anyone who isn’t family.”

“You can trust Brienne,” Jaime says. “Like you trust Loras. He’s not married to Uncle Renly.”

“He’s not?” Tommen asks.

“But Uncle Renly and Uncle Loras have been together for ages,” Myrcella says. “But we’re still not supposed to talk to him because he’s a f - because he’s gay.”

She’s clearly just repeating what her parents told her, but Brienne scowls at the thought of anyone teaching such a sweet child to use that kind of language. Loras had said they’d had to have a long talk with both kids about what inappropriate words were and why they’re hurtful. The children had been terrified the first time they’d met because Robert had scared them into thinking that the men would hurt them, although both are too young to understand the way he meant.

“That’s silly,” Tommen says. “Uncle Renly and Uncle Loras are nice. Not like Dad said they’d be.”

“They are nice,” Brienne agrees. “I’ve known your Uncle Renly since we were in high school.”

Myrcella looks suspicious. “Mom says women are only after Uncle Jaime’s money,” she says.

“That’s silly,” Brienne says, ignoring Jaime’s horrified expression. “I make my own money, I don’t need anyone else’s.”

“Cause you’re not married?” Tommen says. “Mom says only unmarried women have to get jobs.”

“I’m never getting married,” Myrcella says fervently.

“Well, some women don’t work after they get married,” Brienne says carefully. “But lots of them do. I like my job and I wouldn’t want to give it up even if I were to marry someone.”

“Brienne works with computers,” Jaime tells his niece.

That makes Myrcella perk up. “We made robots in computer class,” she says. “And got to learn how you make them go. It was fun. I like chemistry better, though.”

“Can you make a robot?” Tommen asks.

“I did once,” Brienne says. “But that was a long time ago. It wasn’t very good.”

That seems to help a bit, though Myrcella still gives her suspicious looks every time Jaime goes near her. By the time dinner is over and Jaime has put both of them to bed, she’s at least won Tommen over.

Jaime collapses on the couch next to her. “I had no idea she was telling them those things.”

“That’s happened a lot?”

“Gods, yes. She’s just - the things they said about Tyrion and Renly are just awful. If I’d known..”

“Renly says she didn’t let anyone near them.”

“Not even when they were born. I couldn’t even hold them.” Jaime stops, looking over at her. “I wanted to so badly.”

“They’re good kids,” she says.

He takes a deep breath. “I think they’re mine.”

Chapter Text

Brienne does her best to process Jaime’s latest bombshell without freaking out. He swears he didn’t have any idea, not until Robert died. There’s no other reason he can think of for Cersei to have gotten rid of Robert’s will - and everyone is certain she did get rid of it - if it was just bad for her.

Stannis has been suspicious too, it seems, tracking down a legion of Baratheon bastards who are uniformly dark-haired and blue-eyed.

This should make her want Jaime less, make her push him away, but somehow it doesn’t. She still wants to touch him and kiss him and hold him. She can tell it’s killing him not to be able to say anything, not to tell the kids they still have a father to take care of them.

Brienne wonders if this means there is something wrong with her.

She does her best to keep things normal, although she stops anything from going as far as that one night on the couch.

Their fourth not-date gym date has prompted Jaime to get back to Selmy’s on a regular basis. He’s very self-conscious at first, but it turns out that the fact that they’re dating has made the rounds and everyone is far more interested in teasing him about how besotted they think he is than making fun of his hand.

Clegane emails him videos of a one-handed boxer, which also helps perk him back up.

Jaime begins putting muscle back on at a speed that makes her simultaneously jealous and aroused.

He also seems to find her working out incredibly attractive, even though she knows that she just looks sweaty and gross. He especially likes it when she fights, and tells her one day, after he’s cornered her in the hall and kissed her breathless, about the times he’s had to leave the room when she’s sparring before he embarrasses himself in public.

Jaime’s finding her strength and fighting attractive goes against everything she’s ever been told men want, but she does her best to try to accept that it’s real. (The same principle seems to work for Ygritte and Jon too, so if she and Jaime are freaks, they at least have company.)

She still worries he’ll get tired of how skittish she is, though. And how slow things are moving.

She’s too ashamed to ask anyone about it, though she knows that other couples don’t move at the glacial pace she’s set. Renly and Loras are a failed one-night stand, after all, and she knows Jon and Ygritte hooked up together after the party Margaery threw her.

But then there’s Gilly and Sam, and Sam doesn’t appear to feel like he’s suffering in any way.

But, she worries, Sam and Jaime are worlds apart. She loves Sam, she truly does, but a man who looks like Jaime is surely used to women throwing themselves at him whenever they can. And Cersei … well she may be his sister, but if she’s half as beautiful as Jaime she’d still probably be one of the most gorgeous women on the planet.

Arya gives her a look of utter disappointment when the topic gets raised at brunch.

“I thought you weren’t as bad as the rest of them,” she says. “Letting a boy get you all twisted up.”

“I know,” Brienne says. “I shouldn’t.”

Sansa rolls her eyes. “I thought you were growing out of this, Arya.”

“Why would I want to do that?” Arya demands. “Getting stupid over boys never did you any good.”

“I do not get stupid over boys!”

“Not anymore. Now you get stupid over her,” Arya says, jerking her chin at Margaery.

“I do not!”

“What do you think Mom’s gonna say about it?”

“What do you think Mom’s gonna say about Gendry?” Sansa shoots back. “And don’t you dare tell her before I do.”

“Like she’s not going to figure it out, the way you’re always going on about her. Oh, Margaery,” Arya mimics, pretending to swoon.

“It’s not stupid to fall in love,” Gilly says calmly.

“Don’t get mad just because you want to climb your blacksmith like a tree,” Ygritte tells Arya. “He’d let you.”

Arya huffs. “Like that would help. Look at Brienne, she look any happier now that she’s got her pretty boy?”

“I’m happy,” Brienne objects. “It’s just. A lot.”

“Exactly,” says Arya, pointing with her knife.

Chapter Text

October is winding down when Brienne finds herself at a farm outside of King’s Landing that promises to let you pick your own pumpkins. Jaime had heard about it on the internet and was immediately taken with the idea. He’s snapping photos on his phone every two seconds - she tries her best to avoid them, although she’s certain he still manages to get shots of her - and Tommen is clinging to her hand while Myrcella pulls a red wagon along behind her as they head towards the ridiculously crowded field.

“Look!” Myrcella shouts. “Fairy tale pumpkins!” And off she goes, abandoning the wagon, skirt flying.

Jaime collects the wagon and follows, grinning brightly at Brienne.

Brienne crouches down to face Tommen, who is dragging his feet. “What’s the matter?”

Tommen clutches her hand tighter and shrugs.

“You can tell me,” she tries.

“Too many people,” he finally whispers.

It is crowded, that’s for sure, because every parent with small children seems to have had the same idea as Jaime to come out for the photo opportunities. He’d even coordinated their outfits - Brienne drew a line at matching - which is why she’s traipsing through a field in uncomfortable knee-high boots instead of work shoes.

“You want me to carry you?” she offers, figuring at least he’ll be a bit removed from things, as tall as she is. And he’s probably not too old to be carried? Is six too old? She doesn’t know. He nods into her leg and she wonders, as she gets him settled, how she of all people ended up here.

A mother standing nearby with a couple of teenagers, looks over at them. “Enjoy it while it lasts,” she tells Brienne. “They grow up so fast. I remember when mine were that age.”

Brienne startles before smiling weakly at her. Motherhood is not something she’s ever thought about, really. For one, it would require a man to be interested in her, which is something she still finds vaguely unbelievable. And she’s not really the mothering type, not like Sansa, who collects wayward individuals at every opportunity. (And yes, she counts herself in that bunch.)

That doesn’t man she doesn’t get a warm feeling at the woman’s words. That someone so casually accepted that she, tall and ugly and awkward, could have a spouse and child is a novelty she can’t quite believe.

And, she realizes, she’s actually enjoying it. Crowds aside. She’s been in an unbelievably good mood since she and Jaime started dating, much to everyone else’s amusement, and she finds it harder and harder to remind herself that it could all end.

It could end, she thinks, at any moment Jaime could wake up and realize how much better he could do. That he could form a family with someone who fits right in with him and the two beautiful, golden kids.

But today is not that day, because Jaime grabs her and kisses her as soon as she walks up to him, ignoring the disgusted sound both kids make.

Myrcella frowns up at Tommen. “Tommen! You’re too big for that!”

“I can manage,” Brienne assures her.

Myrcella shakes her head. “Mom says we’re too old for baby things like being carried. And that a Lannister can’t be seen acting childish.”

The sadness on Jaime’s face when he hears that makes Brienne wish she could go back in time and take away whatever pain his family inflicted on him.

“You’re never too old for things you like,” Jaime tells Myrcella. “No matter what other people think. I do silly things all the time.”

“It’s true,” Brienne says. “People think lots of things, and they’re usually not true.”

“Like Uncle Tyrion and Uncle Renly?” Myrcella ask. “Mom and Dad said lots of bad things about them, but they’re really nice.” “Exactly like that,” Jaime says.

Myrcella considers this, then nods. “Does that mean we can go trick-or-treating on Crone’s Night?”

“Yes.”

“And wear costumes?”

“Of course.”

“Will you wear a costume, Uncle Jaime?”

He looks trapped at that and Brienne stifles a laugh at the corner he’s backed himself into.

“Sure,” he says finally, and starts herding her towards the next activity before she can ask for anything else.

Tommen perks up when they spot a pen of goats near the farm store and scrambles off Brienne’s shoulders to go pet the animals. She’s not nearly as excited by farm animals as any of the Lannisters - probably because she’s seen them before - and elects to stay outside the pen.

She can’t help pulling out her own phone when she catches sight of Myrcella and Tommen laughing hysterically as a goat corners Jaime and begins chewing at the hem of his plaid shirt.

She makes up for it by buying apple cider donuts for everyone while Jaime fusses over the state of his clothing.

“It’s authentic,” she tells him. “Now you look like you’ve done actual work.”

By the time they leave, Jaime has coughed up a significant chunk of money for overpriced pumpkins, several jugs of cider and farm tee shirts. It’s ridiculous and excessive but Brienne bites her tongue because he just looks so happy watching the kids, who are now perched on the back of two bored-looking ponies being led in circles by chipper farm hands.

“Sometimes it doesn’t seem real,” he tells her. “I never thought I’d get to do things like this with them.”

“They seem like they’re doing well,” Brienne replies.

Jaime beams in response, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. It still feels strange to do that with so many people around, and she can’t help noticing the scowl on the face of a curvy brunette who’s been inching closer to Jaime since the pony ride started.

“I never thought I’d get to be this happy,” Jaime says into her hair.

Brienne agrees.

Chapter Text

Crone’s Night finds her at Renly’s watching the latest Lannister-Baratheon family drama play out with great amusement.

In what comes as a surprise to precisely no one, Tommen and Myrcella have not been allowed to go trick-or-treating before, and both have taken to the opportunity with absolute glee. Myrcella has dressed up as one of the scientists from the new Ghostbusters - the hot one, according to Margaery - and Tommen is, of course, a cat.

The problem comes when none of the uncles can agree who is supposed to actually take them. It’s Renly’s turn hosting the kids, but Tyrion and Jaime both insist they should be the ones to go, for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with having also been denied the chance to celebrate as children, while Stannis stiffly insists that as the only Actual Parent, he is the most responsible choice.

Margaery finishes painting Tommen’s face with stripes and whiskers, adjusting the ears on the top of his head, while the men continue to go back and forth. Brienne is content to sit with Loras, Sansa, and Shae and sip a mug of cider while spectating. Loras has liberally spiked all the adult’s mugs with whiskey.

“I’m the only one in costume, obviously I should go,” Jaime says, flapping his cape behind him. Aside from the cape, he’s got a pair of fake vampire teeth, although the jeans and tee shirt he has on underneath detract from the look.

“Hey! I’m in costume!” Renly retorts, straightening the crown on his head.

“He’s my King!” Loras shouts dramatically from the sofa, waving a plastic sword around. “I’m his Knight of Flowers.”

Jaime scoffs.

Shae wanders off to the kitchen and returns with a tin of caramel corn that she passes around to those who are not involved in the debate.

“It is not about costumes,” Stannis says from between gritted teeth. “It’s about responsibility”

“I could have a costume,” Tyrion says suddenly. “A ghost. I could be a ghost.”

“Oh, yes, with the bedsheet,” Shae adds. “Myrcella could bust you!”

“You are not cutting up my sheets,” Renly objects. “Those are 300 thread count Egyptian cotton.”

Brienne does not know how this is her life, she really doesn’t.

The doorbell rings, unnoticed by the quarrelling men. Tommen and Myrcella are fidgeting impatiently, and keep trying to edge closer to the door.

The doorbell rings again.

Sansa sighs and gets up to dispense candy. She and Margaery have gone for retro costumes, and Sansa looks altogether adorable in a poodle skirt and sweater set, while Margaery makes a shockingly good greaser. Brienne wouldn’t have pegged her for one to drag, but she’s making it work.

Stannis stops arguing just long enough to chastise Sansa for giving out handfuls of candy instead of counting out one piece per child. After twenty minutes, Shireen emerges from the back bedroom and sighs, looking at them.

“Oh, this is just ridiculous,” the teenager says. She’s changed into an elaborate fairy costume, complete with face paint that cleverly makes use of the scars on her face and turns them into an ethereal looking spiderweb. “How long have they been doing this?”

“‘Bout an hour,” Margaery says, grabbing another handful of popcorn.

Shireen glares at her father, then grabs both kids by the hands, picks up the stack of pillowcases provided for candy and tugs them toward the door. “Tell them we’ll be back by 10.”

It takes the men another thirty minutes to realize they’re gone, and then Sansa has to talk Stannis down from the ceiling at the fact that his fifteen-year-old is out without a chaperone.

“She’s fifteen, Stannis, she’ll be able to drive next year,” Renly says, which is exactly the wrong thing to do.

The volume between the Baratheon brothers increases steadily as they go at it, while Tyrion liberates the whiskey from Loras and begins pouring another round of cider.

So nobody notices when Jaime grabs her hand and tugs her towards the guest room at the back of the house.

The first kiss goes terribly wrong, because he forgets to take out the plastic vampire teeth, but her mild protests die a quick death as he returns his lips to hers.

Brienne keeps waiting for the day kissing him will be familiar enough that it doesn’t make her head spin, but so far it hasn’t happened yet. She wraps her arms around his neck, pulling him closer and closer, the buzz of alcohol in her system loosening her inhibitions enough to forget that their friends are just a few rooms over.

Jaime backs her up against the wall, sucking insistently at a spot on her neck that has her moaning and pressing against him.

It feels like his hand is everywhere and hers are too, sliding along his back and shoulders, down to his ass - and gods he has a great ass.

She can barely move, the wall behind her back and his body pressed tight against her front, but it’s suddenly not enough and when his hand brushes across the zipper of her pants she grabs it and holds it there before she can second-guess herself.

The look in Jaime’s eyes is pure heat as he pulls it down, watching her face carefully. “Okay?”

“Please,” Brienne whispers, and pulls his lips back to hers as she uses her other hand to help him shove her jeans down past her hips.

He cups his palm against her first, lightly pressing over her underwear, until she’s pushing up against his hand impatiently. Then he slips his hand under the waistband of her underwear, fingers brushing through the curls of her hair where no one has ever touched before.

Should she have shaved, she wonders distantly, as he pets her gently, stroking his fingers along the crease of her thigh, and the line of her pelvic bone. She can’t stop her hips from arching up against his fingers but he stops just shy of where she wants him.

“Can I?” he whispers in her ear and she whines and pushes against him before she can find the words to answer.

“Yes,” she says, resolutely ignoring the way her voice breaks over the words.

He kisses her again, tongue tangling with hers as he slides his hand down further, until his fingers reach her core.

He’s gentle as he brushes his fingers along her slit, parting her folds and stroking softly. She gasps at the feeling, the light touches just making her want more.

“So wet,” he moans against her neck.

She whimpers as she feels his fingers pushing against her, stretching upwards and she jolts against him as he brushes against her clit.

She can feel him grinning against her as he brushes it with his thumb until she’s chasing his touch with her hips and whispering “please” into his ear.

“You want this?” he mutters as he slides a finger into her and she can’t help the sound that escapes her.

It’s not that she’s never touched herself before, but it’s usually felt awkward and unsatisfying. This is the opposite. There’s something about his finger that has her moaning loudly and pushing forward to get him deeper.

She doesn’t exactly have small hands, but his are still bigger and she can feel it in the way her body stretches to accommodate him. His finger is thicker than hers, and longer, and she feels him touching spots she never even knew existed, continuing to swipe his thumb across her clit at the same time.

He seems to be enjoying it as well, groaning brokenly against her as he adds another finger, the stretch burning slightly but also feeling so good, before he curls his fingers forward.

She shouts out loud when he hits a spot she never even knew existed, the pleasure shooting through her in waves.

“Yes,” Jaime says before closing his lips over hers, and her mind goes blank with how good it feels.

She can’t register much beyond how it feels, his fingers feeling so full inside her, the way every touch seems to send sparks through her entire being until she’s lost, shuddering against him as stars burst in front of her eyelids. She’s dimly aware of the noises she’s making, the ones he’s swallowing up with his mouth because everyone is just one room away.

She expects to feel sated when she comes back to herself, but she doesn’t and before she can second guess herself, she’s shoving her hand into his jeans and reaching for him.

His skin is surprisingly soft for how hard he feels under her hand and the sound he makes as he thrusts against her goes straight through her.

He wraps his hand around hers when she hesitates, showing her how to touch him, sliding their hands up and down.

Brienne had heard about multiple orgasms before, but it’s never something she’s thought applied to herself until now. She thinks she might be able to come just from this, the feel of him in her hand and the broken noises Jaime makes when she curiously traces a finger along the underside of the head.

She falters, unsure of what she’s doing, but he whispers instructions against her ear, yes, just like that, tighter, yes, turning into a long moan as she swipes a drop of moisture from the tip and uses it to help slide her hand easier along him.

She doesn't have any basis for comparison but he feels frighteningly large in her hand and she wonders for a minute how he’s ever supposed to fit between her legs.

It feels so good though, the sound she makes, the way he melts against her, how he feels like steel covered with satin as she runs her hand against him until she feels him grown somehow larger before he shudders against her, thrusting urgently into his hand until he spills over it.

Brienne can’t resist the urge to bring her fingers to her lips and lick a drop off.

She’s heard so many things about how awful it tastes, but it’s only salty and slimy. It’s not what she’d have chosen to taste but it’s not bad either, especially considering the look it brings to Jaime’s face as his hips finally still against her.

“You’re unbelievable,” he says finally when he can form words again, staring into her eyes.

She knows she’s blushing but she can’t find it in herself to care when she sees the affection and desire written all over his face.

They surge towards each other without words, clinging as if the world is about to end. Despite the fact that both their jeans are open and their hands are sticky with fluids, it’s not gross. She just feels safe and warm and loved.

They stay like that until Loras bangs his fist on the door, clearing his throat and informing them that their absence has been noted.

Brienne had expected endless teasing after that, but the sly comments are cut short by other, more interesting drama.

First, the epic blow-out between Shireen and her father when she comes home with the treat-laden, over-sugared kids and a very large and obvious hickey on her neck. That was from her secret boyfriend, whom Myrcella described as VERY cute and also a little scary.

Stannis finally storms off with his daughter in tow, promising that not only will he find out the identity of the boy in question, Shireen is grounded until she’s thirty.

The rest of the adults had continued to drink as the stream of trick-or-treaters morphed from adorable children to teenagers in increasingly inappropriate costumes. Most of them had sailed past tipsy straight into wasted, which became obvious when Renly walked into the kitchen to grab more caramel corn only to find Sansa sprawled halfway across the table with Margaery’s head under her skirt.

Brienne would have died of embarrassment if it had been her, but Margaery was completely unrepentant and even Sansa was drunk enough to laugh it off. And thank god, because Loras finding her and Jaime locked in a bedroom - fully clothed- suddenly became a lot less interesting as gossip.

She lies in her bed that night thinking about Jaime and how it felt to be that close to him. It scares her how much she wants that to keep happening for as long as it possibly can.

Chapter Text

Jaime’s couch is still a gold patterned monstrosity that makes Brienne’s head ache looking at it, but she’s becoming quite fond of it. Especially when she’s sprawled across it with Jaime hovering above her looking like a cat who got the canary.

She’s the canary in that scenario but she can’t bring herself to be overly offended by the thought.

“You look so good like this,” he says, flicking the buttons of her shirt open. “All spread out for me.”

Brienne runs her hands across the plane of his chest, loving the way his hair scratches her palms, and he leans into her touch.

Jaime groans when he parts her shirt and realizes she’s worn nothing underneath. “No bra?”

Brienne blushes and looks away. “They’re uncomfortable and I don’t really need one …”

Jaime lowers his head to bite and suck at her nipple until it hardens in his mouth. “Now I’m going to be wondering every time I see you.” He turns his attention to her other breast, mouthing around it until she’s tugging on his hair to pull him where she wants him. “I’m not going to be able to think about anything else.” “Jaime, please.” She tries to direct him, but he keeps tracing a line of kisses along her ribs.

“You want something?” he finally asks. “You could just ask, you know.”

“I want …” She blushes.

“Yes?” he drawls, lazily tracing a line between her breasts with his tongue.

“Please,” she says. “Please…”

“Please what?”

She’s so red she could probably blend in with the walls right now. “Please suck on my …”

He takes pity on her, though, lifting his head to catch her nipple in his mouth and she arches up to him, gods it feels so good. She can feel him smiling against her. “I love how responsive you are. So eager for me.”

Brienne moans and shifts again, hips tilting up to meet him. He starts kissing his way down her stomach, sucking red marks into her skin until she’s writhing and gasping under him.

He’s running one finger under the waistband of her jeans when she thinks she hears something.

“Jaime,” she says.

“Mmm,” he hums, popping the snap open.

“Jaime,” she says more insistently this time. “I think I heard someone come in.”

“Impossible,” he says, scraping his teeth across her hip bone. “Though I hope to hear someone coming very soon.”

A throat clears behind them.

Brienne shrieks and tries to cover herself with her hands while Jaime’s head shoots up to glare at the tall, silver-haired man now looming over them.

“Father,” he says. “What are you doing here?”

Tywin Lannister probably would be handsome, even at his age, if he didn’t have a look of utter disdain on his face. He’s looking at her as if she’s under a microscope and Brienne tries to compose her face as she buttons her shirt.

She hasn’t thought much about the idea of meeting Jaime’s father, but this is definitely not the way that she wanted it to happen.

“And you are…?” Tywin asks.

“This is not the time, father,” Jaime says, still glowering.

“Brienne Tarth,” she says. She wants nothing more than to hide, but she forces herself to step forward and look him in the eye as she offers her hand.

He doesn’t take it.

“Tarth,” he says. “I don’t believe I know that name.”

Silence weighs heavy in the room as he glances between the two of them. “And how are you acquainted with my son?”

“She’s my girlfriend,” Jaime answers. “What are you doing here?”

“You haven’t been attending family events. Nor have my grandchildren,” Tywin answers. “Your absence has been noticed. I expect better of you.”

“The last thing Tommen and Myrcella need is to be paraded around in front of your associates like show ponies,” Jaime says. “Those parties are miserable enough for adults, let alone children.”

“They are Lannisters, they’re expected to do their duty regardless of age. All of you are. Even if you’re … distracted.” Tywin flicks his eyes back to Brienne for a second. “How long has this been going on?”

Brienne knows that Jaime doesn’t have a normal relationship with his father, she doesn’t expect that they have heart-to-heart conversations, but the fact that Tywin knows nothing of their relationship still stings.

“Three months,” Jaime gets out from where he’s clenching his jaw.

Tywin’s eyebrows shoot almost to his hairline. “So you’re serious, then.”

“Yes.”

“Mmm.” Tywin turns back to Brienne then, and she finds herself straightening her spine instinctively. “Miss Tarth, if you are to be involved with my son, I expect that you do your duty to the family as well. Lannister Industries host a ball to welcome the New Year. I expect you both to attend. My assistant will provide you with the details.”

Jaime groans, but Tywin cuts him off before he can say anything. “And you, Jaime, and the children will be coming to Casterly for the Long Night. I expect them to be properly attired and behaved.”

With that, he turns and leaves, clearly expecting no argument.

Brienne sinks down onto the sofa next to Jaime, still trying to process what just happened.

“Brienne, I am so, so sorry.” Jaime grabs her hand. “I will find a way to get you out of this, I swear, I didn’t expect this to happen.”

“You didn’t want him to know about me,” Brienne says flatly.

“What? No! I mean yes, but…”

“Are you ashamed of me?” she asks quietly. “I understand if you are -”

“Not of you, never of you.” Jaime grips her hand tighter when she tries to pull away. “My family are terrible people. It’s bad enough that I have to suffer through them, I don’t want to subject you to it.”

“You didn’t even tell him we were dating,” she says.

“Did you tell your father?”

“Yes.”

Jaime looks shocked. “And you told him … who I am?”

“Yes.”

He swallows several times. “So, how soon should I expect someone to try to kill me?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m hardly the kind of man a father wants for his daughter,” Jaime tells her. “He’s going to look me up, and I can’t imagine he’s going to be thrilled.”

Brienne rolls her eyes. “He doesn’t care about that. He’s just happy that I’m happy.”

It’s not entirely true, strictly speaking, but her father has learned to trust her choices even when he doesn’t like them.

“My father is not like that.” Jaime scrubs his face with his hands. “He’s going to dig into your life. Your family. He’s probably hiring a private investigator right now. He’s always planned to marry me off to some business associate’s kid, just like he did with Cersei. He’s going to do everything possible to try and drive you away.”

“What makes you think he has any say in it?”

“You only say that because you don’t know what he can do.”

“But I know what I can survive,” she tells him.

Jaime sighs. “I hope you do.”

Chapter Text

The conversation about fathers is still turning over in Brienne’s head when her plane touches down on Tarth. She can’t get home often, but she always makes it a point to be there for the Long Night.

It seems like the island changes more every year, but her father looks the same, standing heads over the rest of the crowd, and she feels like a child again as she flings herself into his arms. He’s tall enough to tuck her under his chin and Brienne breathes in the smell of salt air and metal that he seems to always carry with him.

It’s not that she hasn’t appreciated him before, but she’s suddenly conscious of how much worse her life would have been if Selwyn Tarth hadn’t had her back.

The house is just as she remembers, including her bedroom. It seems so odd now, to look at her room and remember how lonely and isolated she felt. To think about the girlish dreams of love and romance she'd had before the world taught her how impossible it was for them to come true.

Her five-year-old self would be delighted by the golden, handsome man who is in her life. Her fifteen-year-old self would be waiting on edge for the inevitable betrayal.

She lets herself imagine, briefly, what it would have been like if she’d met everyone sooner. She'd had Renly, eventually, and they'd spent hours sprawled on the blue carpet studying for exams and dreaming of a life away from small-minded bullies. But that was later, and her father had been ever so meticulous about keeping the door open and checking in casually every ten or fifteen minutes, as if something was going to happen.

She wonders if she would have been like other teenage girls, having slumber parties with her friends, Sansa and Margaery giggling over romance, Gilly baking cookies, Ygritte smuggling booze up the stairs for drinking games.

She can't imagine that teenage Jaime would ever have given her a glance. But she wonders, wistfully, what it might have been like to have enjoyed all the new experiences of romance without the constant worry that she's behind the curve, that her naivete and lack of experience will drive him away.

Brienne shakes herself out of it and digs her gifts out of her bag to take downstairs. She's exchanged gifts with most of her friends already, but Jaime has insisted that she take his to open at dawn. She's left hers with him as well, although she's worried what he will think of it - but too late for that now.

When she gets back downstairs, her father is there with the others. There's her former coach, Goodwin, old Alys from down the street and Jorgen, her father's right-hand man for many years.

Goodwin smiles broadly at her as she enters and Alys wraps in her in a hug as best she can, considering the woman hardly even reaches Brienne's waist these days, so bowed over with age.

"Selwyn was just telling us about your young man," Goodwin says with a wink.

Brienne flushes scarlet as Alys grips her even tighter and mumbles something about being relieved into her stomach. Brienne awkwardly pats her on the head.

"He's treating you right, is he?" Jorgen asks.

"Jaime's wonderful," she mumbles, staring down at her feet now that Alys has (thankfully) detached herself and tottered over to the nearest chair.

"It's so good to see you happy, starfish," her father tells her. His eyes are suspiciously bright. "And your friends, they're all doing all right?"

His tone is so hopeful that Brienne feels a stab of guilt for all the years he's spent worrying about her and how alone she has been. So she fills him in on everyone - Gilly's pregnancy, Missandei's new lead role, Pod's improvement at work.

He's so eager to hear it, all of them are, to hear the details of a life she finally has. Goodwin is thrilled to hear about the classes she's teaching, offering to give her tips on instruction, and Jorgen seems overly fascinated by Ygritte. And Alys shocks Brienne by cackling loudly over Sansa and Margaery, declaring them lucky and musing that she wishes she'd had the opportunity to forgo men at that age.

"I mean, they've got some things going for them," she tells Brienne in a too-loud whisper, gesturing at Goodwin's crotch, "But honestly most of them are more trouble than it's worth."

Brienne chokes on her tea and tries very hard to avoid meeting the eyes of anyone else in the room for some time.

In return, they update her on everything she's missed in Tarth. Her father is still working on efforts to classify much of the shore as a national refuge and prevent additional construction from encroaching, while Jorgen is working on convincing local tourist operators to switch to a more eco-friendly model of business. Goodwin thinks one of his new pupils might have a shot at professional boxing, while Alys gives rambling updates on the neighbors, most of whom Brienne has forgotten even exist.

It's cozy and warm and Brienne lets herself relax into it as they share stories and food through the hours until dawn. In family tradition, she and her father take turns reading from recovered diaries kept by soldiers during the second Long Night, the ones who would defeat the wrights and Night King to save humanity.

Brienne's favorite is that of her namesake. Brienne of Tarth, the Lady Knight, left little behind for historians to study, but she did keep copious notes on battles and strategy. Those have always been the parts she’s liked best, but this time she finds herself wondering at the few passages referencing a man the first Brienne loved, one whom she feared would perish.

He didn't die in the battle, Brienne knows, but broke her heart and left her with child. If Brienne had ever recorded his name, those pages have been destroyed by time. Even her record in the White Book - the first woman in the Kingsguard and the first woman to be Lord Commander all in one go - don’t mention it, only her brief time in service to King Bran the Wise before returning home. Ser Brienne took over ruling her island as the first lady Evenstar and her son and his children would carry on the name, all the way down to Selwyn and now herself.

It was the beginning of the Age of Queens then. Ser Brienne the Evenstar of Tarth, Queen Sansa of the North (who is so different from her descendant that Brienne has come to adore), Queen Yara of the Iron Islands and eventually Queen Arya the Explorer, who would take over Westeros when King Bran left no heirs.

The Tarth family tree is littered with Selwyns, Briennes and Galladons, but as far as Brienne can tell, this is the only other generation to wind up with a similar circumstance. A dead son and a living daughter as heir, though of course now it hardly matters.

"Something wrong?" her father asks, and Brienne realizes she's gone quiet.

"Just thinking about Ser Brienne," she answers.

Selwyn chuckles. "You always did want to be just like her."

"Just wondering about her soldier," Brienne says. "How she thought someone could finally love her, but in the end, he left her too."

"You know, some think he was a Lannister," Selywn says with a wink. "Possibly even the Kingslayer."

Wouldn't that just be poetic, a Jaime Lannister and a Brienne Tarth as star-crossed lovers.

Brienne scoffs. "I hardly think that would happen."

"Anything is possible in love," her father replies.

Brienne hugs her knees to her chest. The Kingslayer was supposed to be the most handsome man in all of Westeros, but she thinks he couldn't be nearly as beautiful as her Jaime is.

"Do you think history repeats itself?" she asks before she can stop herself.

To her father's credit, he considers the question deeply before answering.

"Perhaps. But we are more than our namesakes. Even those we admire very much."

"I'm so scared," she tells him. She feels like a girl again, asking her father why none of the other children will play with her. "I keep waiting for him to realize that he can do so much better than me."

"Nobody is better than you, Brienne."

"You have to say that, you're my dad."

"I do," he agrees. "But I'd say it anyway. You're smart and strong and brave and I'm sure he sees that."

"That's what Sansa and Margaery say."

He nods approvingly. "They sound like smart girls. You should bring them here sometime, and your other friends. Even Renly."

Her father has never quite forgiven Renly for breaking her heart, even unintentionally. She knows he understands that being gay isn't a choice and Renly didn't reject her for the same reasons as most boys, but he still can't let go of the fact that the boy broke his little girl’s heart.

"I'll ask them. And I think... I think I'd like to bring Jaime sometime."

Selwyn doesn't look as surprised by this as she would have thought. "I would like to meet him."

"I think I love him, Daddy," Brienne says and she hasn't called him that since she was ten.

"Does he love you?"

Brienne bites her lip. " I don't know," she whispers.

He wraps his arms around her then, and they sit like that for a long time. The conversation lingers in her mind all night, all the way until the sun finally peeks over the horizon to be greeted with cheers and noise from all the houses on the street.

Children run outside banging pots and pans and shouting to celebrate the dawn and Brienne helps her father bring in breakfast. She even pulls on the traditional white robe worn by youngest daughters, although she draws the line at the wreath of candles meant to go on her head. She’s refused that ever since she tripped when she was nine and singed off half her hair before putting the fire out. She still has the scars by her ear.

It's far too much food for the five of them, trays of bright yellow saffron buns, smoked meats and tangy cheeses, dishes of marinated fish and jars of tart berry jam served with steaming cups of coffee and hot chocolate.

When the time comes to exchange gifts, Brienne can't help staring at the wrapped box from Jaime the entire time. Everything she receives is lovely: the new boxing gloves from Goodwin, a hand knitted sweater from Alys that is (as usual) too short in the arms and torso, a new history of Tarth from her father and a locally made messenger bag from Jorgen, but she hardly notices them.

"It's not going to bite, you know," Jorgen teases as she turns the last box over in her hands.

When she finally tears off the paper - red and gold, because of course - she's surprised to find three smaller packages inside. Pulling them out, she realizes two of them are from the kids. Tommen has drawn her a picture of a cat dressed as a knight - which is really rather good for his age - and Myrcella has made a keychain of colorful strands of plastic braided together.

Her dad laughs. "Lanyards," he says, picking the keychain up. "I received quite a few of those from you over the years."

Brienne carefully opens the last one (To: Wench, it says on the tag, From: Jaime) and lifts the lid to see a pin in the shape of a sword. It's exquisitely detailed and she runs a finger over it as Selywn leans closer.

"Is that..?"

"Oathkeeper," she breathes. Ser Brienne's sword, or at least the nearest anyone can guess. It’s just like the newest rendering, the one they’d seen at the Red Keep. There’s a lion's head at the top of a hilt decorated with delicate carvings and a series of stones set in it.

"Those are real rubies, too, if I'm not mistaken," Alys says, peering at it through her glasses. "Real gold, too."

You don't seem like the type for jewels, Jaime had written in a note enclosed with it, but you deserve them. I thought this would be a good compromise. We may not be able to be knights, but we can still have our swords.

She smiles so wide she feels like her face might split.

Chapter Text

Brienne’s return to Kings Landing is like entering a hurricane. The Lannister gala is a formal affair, and when it comes to a gown she’s thrown herself on the mercy of the Tyrells. Loras is over the moon about it and as soon as she lands she’s whisked away to the studio for a final fitting.

She’s had several appointments already, but they’ve mostly consisted of Loras draping fabric over her and pinning it while muttering under his breath. Nothing so far has resembled an actual dress, and Brienne is irrationally nervous about what he’s going to present to her.

It’s not that Loras isn’t talented, but Brienne knows she’s nothing like the models he is used to. Of course, it ultimately doesn’t matter if she likes the dress or not - it will be far too late to make anything else and there’s no way she will fit into anything from a store.

Margaery joins them, and brings her grandmother along as well.

Olenna Tyrell is like nobody Brienne has met before. She sips from a large glass of gin as she surveys the fitting area like a queen.

“Aren’t you spectacular?” Olenna says, when they meet, looking Brienne up and down. “Thank you.”

“Don’t look so nervous, my dear,” Olenna says. “My grandson is very good at what he does.”

“I know he is,” Brienne says. “But I’m …”

“Magnificent,” Olenna fills in firmly. “My granddaughter was not exaggerating.”

Brienne blushes. She gets even redder after she finally slips into the gown. It’s objectively gorgeous - a rich, sapphire blue satin and velvet creation. The top is velvet, a high-necked halter design that dips low in the back, with a high waist that leads to a flowing, satin skirt.

The halter is cut in a way that doesn’t make her shoulders look as terribly broad as she’d feared and while it exposes more skin than she would like, she knows that the muscles in her back are one of her more admirable attributes.

What gives her pause is the skirt - while flowing and loose, it features a slit that goes all the way to mid-thigh and there’s no way to walk in it without flashing a good deal of leg.

Margaery claps with delight when she appears, and Olenna nods approvingly.

“I don’t know,” Brienne says. “It’s lovely, Loras, it’s just very high.” She pokes at the opening in the skirt for emphasis.

“Nonsense. You have wonderful legs, young lady,” Olenna says. “You mustn’t hide them.”

“I love her legs,” Margaery sighs.

“If I’d had legs like that, I’d have lived in miniskirts until I turned fifty,” Olenna agrees. “Propriety be damned.”

Brienne turns around, looking at her reflection. “It’s the nicest thing I’ve ever worn,” she tells Loras.

“At least one of my grandchildren will be able to carry on my legacy,” Olenna says with a pointed look at Margaery.

The younger woman shrugs it off. “You know I’m planning to take over Father’s seat in government, Grandmother. Tyrell studios will be perfectly safe in Loras’ hands.”

“And grandchildren?” Olenna raises an eyebrow. “That young woman of yours is delightful, but she’s not going to get you pregnant.”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” Margaery says firmly. “Brienne, let’s talk about shoes.”

She and Olenna coax Brienne into a pair of silver sandals with a medium heel. Brienne stares at her reflection in the mirror.

“I don’t know,” she says again, calculating how tall she will be with the shoes on, how much leg will be exposed.

“You look gorgeous,” Loras tells her. “Jaime isn’t going to know what hit him.”

“I’m already taller than he is…”

“And he couldn’t care less,” Margaery says.

“Any man who is intimidated by you is not a man you wish to date,” Olenna lectures. “I assume this one is not so weak.”

Brienne suspects the elder Tyrell has quite a bit of experience with intimidated men.

“The blue brings out your eyes,” Loras continues. “And Shae is doing your hair and makeup, yes? She’ll make sure they really pop.”

It’s futile to argue, and Brienne goes home with a box containing both gown and shoes, along with a new formal coat to wear over it.

She has a flutter of nerves in her stomach, both about the gown and seeing Jaime for the first time since the holiday. He’d called to thank her for her gift and he’d certainly sounded like he was happy with it, but she thinks, belatedly, that she may have overstepped.

A custom set of boxing gloves designed to accommodate his missing hand seemed like a good idea, but she can’t help worrying that she’s only called attention to something he’d rather forget.

Shae does her best to distract her when she comes over to help her finish getting ready. She spends what feels like hours on Brienne’s makeup and hair. When she’s done, Brienne’s hair lays around her face in small waves and her face is done in makeup that emphasizes her eyes with dark liner and rosy gold eyeshadow.

When Brienne stares in the mirror, though, she can only see underneath all of the glamor. Her hair is still short, cropped to just above her chin, her lips still too big even when coated with pink gloss. Her eyes may be a startling shade of blue, but they’re too large for her face. No amount of makeup will ever hide the freckles dotting her face and shoulders or disguise the fact that her nose has been broken more than once.

But it’s too late and when her door buzzes, Brienne steels herself to answer.

Chapter Text

When he arrives to pick her up for the Lannister gala, Jaime stares at Brienne for several moments, jaw working silently before he clears his throat and tries again.

“You look amazing,” he manages.

Maybe Loras was right after all.

Brienne is having her own moment as she takes in the glorious sight of Jaime dressed in a tuxedo that fits him like a glove. He’s grown out a bit of a beard since she last saw him, and she is struck by the sudden urge to rub up against his chin like a cat. She starts to blush just thinking about it and he steps towards her.

“What’s got you turning so red?” he asks. “Thinking of something interesting?”

“No,” she lies in a breathy voice that certainly gives her away.

“That’s a shame. I am,” Jaime says, taking another step forward and looping his arm around her waist. “We could skip it, you know.”

“We can’t,” Brienne says, lifting her hand to push him away. It’s a terrible idea though, because the second she touches his chest, she finds herself pulling him closer instead.

“We can.”

She is taller than him in these shoes, more than usual, and this close, it’s far too easy for him to lower his lips to her neck, sucking gently at the spot just below her ear that he’s learned will turn her knees and willpower to jelly.

“We can’t.” Brienne reaches down for all the honor she’s sure her ancestor passed down to her and gently pries him off her neck. “Jaime, your father.”

He makes a face. “Please never say those words again when I’m kissing you.”

“I won’t if you promise to behave.”

“You like me when I don’t behave.”

“Jaime. I don’t want to give your father more reasons to hate me.”

He finally steps back, drawing a deep breath. Though she hears him groan when she steps over to get her coat and the slit in the skirt falls open. “You’re killing me,” he says, reaching for her again.

She sidesteps his grasp and insists on them sitting across from each other in the limo that’s taking them to the ball. She’s not sure if it’s him or herself that she distrusts more, but she’s certain that sitting on the same side would quickly lead to not keeping their hands to themselves.

As much as Brienne had prepared herself for the gala, she’s taken aback at the sight of the ballroom at Casterly Rock. The manor itself looms large on the edge of a cliff, and they’re greeted by doormen who take their coats and direct them towards a cavernous room already packed with people. A string quartet is playing on stage and the walls are dripping with gold adornments.

Brienne hears Jaime make a strangled sound when she steps ahead of him and he catches sight of the back of her dress.

The gown had seemed so showy when she tried it on, but as they make their way into the room, Brienne realizes how much Loras held back. The other women have gowns that dip scandalously low in front, sparkling with sequins and panels of lace that leave little to the imagination. They drip with gold and jewels on their necks and their ears, sparkling in the light, and Brienne wonders if they’ll question whether she belongs here.

As much as she doesn’t fit in here, Jaime does. They’re waylaid every few steps by people wanting to say hello and get in the graces of the Lannister heir. He introduces her as his girlfriend each time and she does her best not to pay attention to the raised eyebrows and looks of disbelief they get in response. She focuses instead on the joyful look in his eyes when he says it, the way he guides her with his hand on the small of her back, the way his palm feels like a burning imprint on her skin.

She still hears the whispers when they move on, the questions of what he must see in her, of how much money she might have to tempt him to put up with her face. The dirty laughs of men who joke that ugly women are the best in bed because they will do anything out of gratitude.

It feels like hours before they finally reach someone she knows, and Brienne has never been so glad to see another person in her entire life. Never mind that Tyrion is three quarters of the way to wasted already, she’s at least spared a look of shock and surprise.

“Oh dear, the old bastard’s dragged you in already,” Tyrion slurs. “I had hoped you’d escape the circus.”

“Where is Father?” Jaime asks.

Tyrion waves his glass, sloshing wine over the rim. “Haranguing cousin Daven, I think. He’s gone and gotten married without permission.”

Jaime laughs out loud. “Do you think he’ll notice if we slip out?”

Brienne pinches his side. “Jaime!”

“I know, I know, good impressions.” He sighs. “There’s no pleasing him, you realize that?”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t try.”

“You’re certainly impressing me,” Tyrion says. “Brienne, you look fabulous.”

“Thank you, Tyrion.”

He stares intently at the slit in her dress. “You know, I realize the height difference would be a challenge, but if my brother ever tires of you…”

Brienne flushes and Jaime growls at his younger brother, who raises his hands in surrender. “I’m joking! As lovely as you are, I’d get a terrible crick in my neck staring up at you all the time.”

Jaime still tugs her closer, wrapping a possessive arm around her waist. “Mine,” he says.

“I’m not a possession,” Brienne snaps. “I’m my own, thank you very much.”

She knows he means well, but the crowds and the jewels and the room, it’s all just too much.

Jaime starts to pout but she cuts him off and excuses herself before he can start. Leaving them to their bickering and wine, she searches for the nearest exit. She spies Myrcella and Tommen across the room, being shuffled from one adult to another like incredibly bored china dolls, and snags a glass of wine from one of the passing waiters before slipping out onto a balcony.

It’s freezing outside, but it feels good after the stifling heat of the ballroom. Brienne takes in lungfuls of cool air, resting her head against a stone pillar and reminding herself to breathe. She reminds herself of the way Jaime looked at her when he opened the door, the way he’s barely kept his hands off her all night. Even Tyrion’s dirty jests are meant as compliments, she thinks, albeit incredibly misguided ones.

Remember Margaery, she tells herself. Margaery and Sansa and Renly and Loras and Gilly and Ygritte and Arya and Sam and all the other people who don’t look at you like you’ve wandered off from the nearest freak show.

“Miss Tarth.”

She nearly jumps out of her skin when she hears Tywin’s voice behind her. “Mr. Lannister.”

“I’m glad to see you accepted my invitation.”

Your command, she thinks, but summons a smile. “Yes, thank you. It’s lovely, I was just getting a bit of air.”

Her hands are shaking and she quickly tucks them into the folds of her skirt so he won’t see.

“Tarth, like the island. Your family still runs it, I believe?” Tywin switches topics abruptly. “I’m surprised I haven’t heard the name before, but then it hasn’t kept up with the rest of Westeros.”

The Tarths don’t exactly run the island any more, at least not as anything more than figureheads, but Brienne doesn’t particularly feel like explaining that right now.

“No, my father believes preserving natural resources is more important than development,” Brienne answers. “We’ve chosen to stay small.”

“How noble.”

It’s not a compliment, but she takes it as one anyway. “Thank you.”

“Your bloodline is decent,” Twyin continues. “And your professional reputation is excellent. Your salary is nothing remarkable, but you live within your means and have no debts. There appear to be no scandals attached to your name.”

He pauses, but Brienne waits for him to go on rather than respond.

“So I ask you, then, what is it that you want from my son?”

“Nothing,” Brienne says.

“Tyrion told me that you were the one who found Jaime after his accident. I thought it had been one of the security staff. You’re not on the Lannister payroll and yet nothing about what happened made the papers. Why?”

“Because I care about Jaime,” Brienne answers. “And because even if I didn’t, it’s not right to tell the world about someone’s misfortune.”

Tywin looks like this is the most unbelievable thing he has ever heard. “I could write you a check for more money than you’ve ever seen in your life if you agreed to leave him.”

“You could.”

“I could ruin your reputation if you don’t,” he says. “I could make sure that you’ll never be hired in this city again.”

“You could do that too,” she agrees.

“Would it work?”

“No.” Brienne takes a deep breath. “I care about Jaime. And your grandchildren. I’m not going to leave them just because you don’t approve.”

“I could make your life very miserable.”

She’s supposed to be playing nice, but Brienne can’t help thinking of all the things Tyrion and Jaime have told her about their childhood, all the simple kindness and normal life they’re astonished by.

“Then you will have to get in line, Mr. Lannister, because you certainly won’t be the first to try.”

He stares at her for several long moments and she forces herself to meet his gaze without flinching. Whatever test it is, she seems to pass because he finally gives her a sharp nod. “Enjoy the rest of your evening, Miss Tarth. I expect I’ll be seeing you again soon.”

Brienne waits for him to disappear into the crowd before she slumps against the stone wall and waits for the shaking to stop. She must still look pale and terrified, because when she makes her way inside to find Jaime, he takes one look at her and pulls her into a nearby corner.

“What’s wrong?”

She shakes her head. “I talked to your father.”

“Alone? I’m so sorry Brienne, I meant to keep that from happening.” He reaches for her hand. “Did he bribe you to leave me or threaten you?”

“Both.”

“And…”

“Then he said he expects to see me again soon.”

Jaime stares at her in astonishment.

“I am so sorry, Jaime. I can’t imagine what it was like to grow up with him.”

“You’re sorry? I should be apologizing to you. He’s never … he would arrange all of our marriages if he had his way, this isn’t about you personally.” Jaime manages a weak smile. “I think that’s the closest he’s come to approving of anyone, actually.”

Brienne tilts her head forward to rest on top of his. “Jaime,” she says. “Can we get out of here?”

Chapter Text

They barely make it over the threshold of her door before Jaime is hauling her to him and kissing her like he’s never going to get the chance again. He has to stand on his toes to do it, but that doesn’t stop him from pressing her back against the door and pinning her between it and his body.

Brienne shoves his coat off, clutching at the material of his jacket and tries to pull him even closer to her, as if there was any space left between them.

He’d started in the backseat of the limo, refusing to sit anywhere but next to her and sliding his hand up the expanse of leg bared by her skirt. She couldn’t not kiss him then, not the way he looked at her like she was the only thing he’d ever wanted. They’d kept kissing the whole ride, his hand running over every bit of skin he could reach while she tried to swallow the noises escaping from her throat.

She could have told him not to come up, that they should stop, but she can’t, not when all she wants is to be as close to him as she possibly can.

Jaime takes a step back, pulling her with him and shoving her coat off her shoulders onto the floor, and she moans out loud when she feels him run his hand along the bare skin of her back.

“Gods, I love this dress,” he tells her between kisses. “Wanted to take you right there in the middle of the ballroom.”

She’s too tall like this, and she tries to pull away and take off her shoes, but she can’t seem to stop kissing him. She wants to taste him on her tongue forever, she thinks, as their lips meet again and again, but she also wants him out of his clothes. She gets the jacket off him and her hands scrabble at the buttons on his shirt.

She can’t think like this, not when he’s kissing her so hot and sweet that her head spins, when his hand is mapping all the muscles on her back.

“Wait,” she says finally and Jaime pulls back with a desperate look on his face.

“I’m sorry,” he starts.

“No!” She grabs his wrist before he can step away. “No, I mean, shoes. And …” She gestures vaguely at their clothes.

Jaime grins at her and kicks off his dress shoes while she finally manages to get her heels off, and she’s still taller than he is, but not so much that he can’t reach to kiss her easily, and he does.

She recalls, dimly, that she meant to do something else, too, but she’s having trouble focusing on anything other than his lips on hers, the way his tongue darts out to chase hers and the feeling of his beard scraping against her skin when he finally breaks away from her mouth to kiss his way down her neck.

“You’re killing me in this,” he says against her skin.

She finally manages to undo the buttons of his shirt and tries to get it off him but is stopped by the way his arms are wrapped around her. She tugs at it until Jaime lets go of her to shrug it off and when he does she steps past him, pulling him with her towards the bedroom.

It’s slow going, because he switches to dropping kisses all over the exposed skin on her back and shoulders and she has trouble walking (or thinking or breathing) when he’s doing that.

“Jaime,” she gasps.

“Mmm,” he mumbles against her skin, before biting down on the curve of her shoulder in a way that threatens to make her legs give out from under her.

“This would be easier … with a bed,” she manages.

That finally gets his attention and the next thing she knows, they’re falling back onto her bed tangled up in each other. She runs her hand over the muscles of his chest and shoulders, reveling in the warmth of his skin and the way he sighs and groans in response to her touch.

Her skin tingles every place he touches, and she just keeps arching closer and closer to him. They’re pressed together as tight as possible and it still doesn’t feel like enough.

Nothing could ever be enough, she thinks.

Jaime’s hand plucks at the back of her dress and he stops kissing her neck long enough to mutter a curse as he tries to undo the tiny clasps one-handed.

She forces herself to push him away enough to sit up and undo it herself, while he shifts to drop kisses up the exposed part of her thigh. It distracts her enough to make her momentarily forget what she’s doing, his lips leaving her nerves tingling in their wake.

His teeth graze the curve of her thigh and she jolts back to awareness, finally getting the hooks undone and shoving the top of her dress down before she can become self-conscious.

Jaime surges up to meet her then, sucking on her bottom lip as he slides his hand up to her breast, thumbing one nipple until she whimpers into his mouth.

It’s so good like this, the feel of him surrounding her as they kiss and touch and the feeling of skin against skin. Her eyes roll back in her head when he drops down to suck on her breasts, alternating between them until she’s a squirming, gasping mess underneath him.

“So pretty and pink,” he says, releasing one nipple with a pop.

He drags her dress the rest of the way off, as she lifts her hips to help him, and then he hovers above her, staring down with hooded eyes.

He’s so beautiful like that, the way he looks at her like she’s something special to be cherished, and she pulls him down to her, reveling in the way his weight presses her into the mattress and at where she can feel him, hot even through his pants, against her stomach.

“Brienne,” he gasps out.

“Jaime,” she answers, rolling her hips up to his. She feels empty all of a sudden, like she needs him inside her, like he’s something she’s been missing this whole time.

It aches.

“Are you sure?” he finally gets out.

She looks up at him, the way his pupils are blown dark and the naked desire written on his face. This is nothing she’s ever allowed herself to imagine, and there’s nothing she wants more in the world.

“Yes,” she says, clutching at his shoulders.

She whines when he pulls back, but it turns into a gasp when he slips her panties down her legs, kissing the inside of her knee and ankle as he does. She tugs on his shoulders, wanting nothing more than to feel him against her again, but his eyes widen and he breaks free of her grasp to push between her legs before she can stop him.

Brienne arches nearly off the bed when she feels the wet heat of his tongue against her and oh god, she knows people say it’s good, but nobody said it was this good. He sucks lightly at her clit and she feels the pleasure shoot up her spine.

But it’s not what she wants, not right now and she winds her fingers in his hair to tug him up to her again, kissing him deeply despite the fact that she can taste herself on his lips. Sour, she registers dimly, feeling him gasp into her mouth.

She manages to get his pants down and shoves them and his underwear down until he kicks them off and oh gods, they’ve never been totally naked together before and his skin sliding against hers feels like heaven.

He’s whispering broken words into her skin, beautiful and love and sweet and his cock is a burning heat against her hip so close to where she wants it.

He slips his fingers into her while she’s distracted, picking up where his mouth left off and before she knows it, she’s shaking around him and crying his name out as she comes.

It’s not enough, though, not what she wants and she still feels so empty when she’s done. “Please,” she manages to get out. “Please, I need you.”

His hips snap forward at that, almost exactly where she wants him and thank the gods he has enough presence of mind to pull back to get a condom - and bless Gilly for the supply she now has in her nightstand drawer - and then he’s back exactly where she wants him, pushing slowly into her.

She’s been told it hurts, and to be truthful it does, but not bad, just a stinging feeling as she stretches to accommodate him. He watches her face as he enters her, and any time she flinches, he stops and waits, even if he’s shaking with the effort of holding back. It seems like an age before he finally stops, trembling above her as she adjusts to the feeling.

She wants him, but it’s strange, and it takes a few moments before her muscles finally relax and she’s able to focus on how good it feels. She’s full and close and it’s Jaime, he’s part of her like this. Brienne shifts her hips slowly, and Jaime begins to move, thrusting slowly into her.

“Gods, you feel so good,” he says, voice breaking.

She whimpers in response, titling her hips up until he grabs her leg and pulls it up to hook over his hip and oh yes, that helps. He’s hitting that place inside of her that makes her spark with pleasure and all she can do is clutch him tighter.

“Jaime,” she manages, trying to put everything she feels into his name.

It all dissolves into a blur of feeling and sensation, the way he feels inside her, the way he keeps kissing her even as he pushes into her faster and harder until she’s almost sobbing with the feeling and then he shifts his hips against her just right, his pelvis grinding against her clit and she’s crying his name as she dissolves into pleasure. It keeps going and going, moving through her in waves as she feels him lose his rhythm and push into her once, twice, three times, shouting with pleasure until he stills against her before collapsing on top of her.

It feels like a loss when he finally pulls out of her and she makes a disgruntled noise when he rolls over onto the bed. Breinne follows, curling up with her head on his shoulder and wrapping an arm around him as they fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Gilly gives birth shortly after the new year and everyone stops by the hospital to greet her and the new baby. Little Sam, she tells them, with a shy look at Sam, who is sitting next to her looking as if he can't believe his good fortune. Brienne can't get over how small the baby is, how fragile and tiny he looks. She refuses to hold him for fear of hurting him, but she strokes a finger along his tiny cheek and marvels at how soft and new he is.

She watches Jaime hold little Sam in his arms and almost can't breathe at how at home he looks holding a baby in his arms. He looks almost wistful as he strokes the tiny tuft of hair on the baby's head and cradles him to his chest. She knows, rationally, that he's done it before, but seeing him so tenderly cradling little Sam gives her the sudden urge to burst into tears.

It's not that Brienne has always wanted children. Or not wanted them, for that matter. She's simply classified children in the same realm as having someone fall in love with her – completely out of the realm of possibility and not worth worrying about. Sometimes she's wondered if she even could have children, unfeminine as her body is, though her doctors have assured her there's no reason she couldn't.

Gilly is incandescent with joy and Sam is beaming right beside her as if his namesake is also his own flesh and blood.

Later that night, when they're lying in his bed, naked and exhausted, she finally works up the courage to ask Jaime about it.

"Do you think about having more kids?"

Jaime pauses from where he's been tracing the freckles dotting her shoulder. "Do you?" he asks.

Brienne frowns. "I asked you."

Jaime rolls onto his back and stares up at the ceiling. "I think I'd like to," he says finally. "I never got to – I mean Myrcella and Tommen, I'm still only their uncle as far as they know. And Joffrey is … Joffrey was always off and I don’t know if my being there would have made a difference.”

“You can’t change the past,” she says.

“I know.” Jaime strokes her hair. “I just feel responsible for having any role in creating such a monster. I'd like to get a chance to actually be a father. But I don't need to, if that's what you're worried about. I would never expect that of you."

Brienne is rendered momentarily speechless that he immediately jumps to the thought of having those children with her, even if that's what she'd been thinking when she asked.

"I mean, I know it's a lot for a woman, men have the easy part and you're so young still," he continues.

"Jaime," she tries.

"And of course you don't even necessarily want children. I shouldn't assume you do, not everyone does, of course, and that's fine."

"Jaime."

"And I mean, I don't even know what's going to happen with Myrcella and Tommen yet and I'd like to have them with me but I know that's a lot to ask of you and I don't want to push –"

"JAIME."

He finally stops and looks over at her. He looks far more uncertain than she would have thought and she gives into the urge to kiss him. She's as gentle as she can be, trying to pour all of what she feels into it because she isn't sure if she can find the words to express it.

"I've never thought about children," she begins slowly. "I didn't think ... I didn't dare to imagine that they'd be a possibility, not unless I went about it on my own and I don't think I would want to do that."

He turns back to her, wrapping an arm around her waist, but she puts a finger to his lips before he can start talking.

"But I think it might be something that I would think about. In the future. I don't know if I'd even be any good as a mother, but –"

"You would be an amazing mother," he interrupts. "You're the best person I know."

She can't help but kiss him again at that and they lose themselves in each other for a while before Brienne remembers the rest of what she wanted to say and pries herself away.

Jaime makes a soft noise of protest and moves to nuzzle into her neck before she grabs his hair and forces his head up.

(That gets a very interesting noise out of him that she files away for later.)

"What were you saying about Myrcella and Tommen?"

Jaime tenses against her. "We've been talking about deciding on a permanent housing situation for them."

"And?"

"They've talked about wanting to live with me."

"Oh."

"They've talked about living with Renly and Loras too," he adds hurriedly. "It doesn't have to be here."

"But you want them here."

"Yes. But I don't want ... I want you too, and it would complicate things."

Oh. "And you don't want me here with them," she says in a small voice.

It doesn't make sense the way he was talking earlier, but maybe it does, after all this is still new and this isn't some hypothetical future baby, it's two kids who already exist.

"What? No!" Jaime looks shocked. "No, it's just .. it's complicated. I mean, you didn't sign on for that. And I don't know how we'd ... I mean, we barely make it past the door before getting naked half the time, and we can't do that if they're around."

Brienne turns bright red at that, remembering the way they had only made it as far as the couch, not even getting all their clothes off before he was desperately sinking into her. She really needs to get him to put up drapes; it’s by sheer luck that no building staff has ever been in her office when this has happened and she knows that luck doesn’t hold out forever. But somehow none of that seems to matter when all she wants is him.

“You shouldn’t make your decisions based on me,” she says softly. “Not about this.”

“I should,” he argues. “I love you.”

He says it so simply, as if she should know and Brienne gapes at him for a moment until his brain catches up with his mouth.

“I love you,” he says again. “And I really didn’t plan on telling you like this, but I do.”

“That doesn’t change that you need to make these decisions for you,” she says. “Just because I love you doesn’t mean I should run your life.”

“You love me?” he asks, looking like he’s having almost as much trouble believing it as she had.

“I love you,” she says again.

“I love you,” he says back, and they repeat the words back and forth like a pair of idiots until they finally fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Brienne has honestly forgotten that her birthday is coming up until Margaery corners her one day and demands to know which day is the best for a party.

The last time she had a birthday party she must have been all of about six, still young enough that friendship was based solely on sharing crayons and blocks. She’d tried once, after, maybe when she was eight or nine, after Galladon had died, sending invitations to everyone in her class and waiting in her blue party dress surrounded by goody bags and games. It had snowed, a rare late snowfall for Tarth, and she had plans for a snowball fight that would end all others.

Nobody had shown up. Her father had tried to blame the weather, saying that surely her classmates had wanted to come but it wasn’t safe on the roads. But when she got to school on Monday, she’d heard the kids asking if anyone had been brave enough to go to ugly Brienne’s party, and how weird was it? Was her family as ugly as she was? Did they all look as strange?

She’d cut the dress up with scissors and shoved it in the trash after, and refused to even consider trying again. Her father would take her to dinner and bring her a cake, but it didn’t feel like much of a celebration, and by the time she was a teenager she’d stopped him from doing even that.

The idea of having a birthday party now is somewhere between terrifying and pitiful. Personally, Brienne would be perfectly fine continuing the nothing tradition or, at most, ordering pizza and watching movies, but that idea gets shot down very quickly.

Margaery drags Jaime into it as well and both of them refuse to say anything about what they've planned. Jaime even goes as far as blindfolding her for the drive to what turns out to be a large warehouse on the edge of Flea Bottom.

Brienne's convinced they're in the wrong place, but Jaime ushers her inside to find all of their friends waiting, along with a small, manic man who turns out to be an expert in the art of historical sword fighting.

Brienne suddenly thinks this idea might not be so bad.

The teacher is named Syrio Forel, and while he appears to be six kinds of crazy, he's also very entertaining as he distributes padded plastic swords to the group and instructs them in basic technique before dividing them into groups and telling them to start fighting.

It's fun. Brienne finds that holding a sword feels natural to her, and her height and strength give her a definite advantage. Jaime and Loras take to it quickly as well, as does Bronn who has shown up as Tyrion's shadow per usual.

Sansa is astonishingly fierce, while Margaery and Ros spend more time giggling than fighting. Then there's Arya. She ignores the vast majority of Forel's instructions but dances around the arena with a combination of acrobatics and speed that makes her virtually unstoppable.

Gilly cheers from the sidelines, Little Sam in her arms, and she's quickly joined by others who give up, including Tyrion, Missandei, and Sam. Renly gets out too, when an unfortunate combination of moves leaves him getting smacked in the chest hard enough to leave him gasping for air.

"What do we say to the god of death?" Forel shouts from the center of the arena, where he's been offering tips to all those who are still fighting.

"Not today!" Arya screams back, as she executes some sort of slow-motion cartwheel maneuver to evade Brienne's strike.

By the end of it, only a few fighters are left on the field. Arya and Clegane have zeroed in on each other in a bout that only ends when Clegane, clearly frustrated, picks Arya up under one arm and deposits her neatly into Gendry's lap.

That leaves Brienne on the field with Jaime and neither of them are willing to back down in the slightest. She finally manages to disarm him, but Jaime growls and tackles her to the dirt floor instead of yielding, and the two of them roll around wrestling before she finally gets the upper hand.

"Yield," she says, placing the edge of the sword against his neck. She grins triumphantly from where she's straddling his thighs.

Jaime smirks up at her before using his hips to get enough momentum to flip her over and pin her, although she manages to keep her sword just out of his reach.

"I told you our fight would be epic," he says, grinning down at her.

Brienne hooks her ankles around him and rolls them back again, this time planting herself firmly on his hips and catching his left wrist with her knee.

"Yield," she says again.

He stares up at her, flushed from exertion and so beautiful like this, she realizes. Still, he shakes his head.

"Yield," she says again, leaning forward to press her sword more firmly against his neck. Her hips press down harder on his, and she brings her other hand to press down on his right wrist before he can try to flip them again.

"I won," she says, staring down. "Give in."

Jaime's eyes darken and she feels his hips twitch underneath her.

"To you?" he says. "Always."

And then he rolls his hips underneath her, slow and sweet and she grinds back reflexively without thinking about where they are.

She's brought back to reality by Margaery letting out a wolf whistle and she collapses fully on top of Jaime to bury her face in his neck in shame. He laughs hysterically at that and wiggles his hand free to haul them both up, even as she tries to hide.

Forel declares her the champion and hands her a flower crown to declare her queen of love and beauty. Jaime bats his eyelashes and looks at her expectantly, so she crowns Sansa just to spite him. Margaery and Jaime pout together all the way to the next part of the evening.

That turns out to be dinner at Hot Pie's, where they take up nearly half the restaurant and are treated to a special menu that's been put together to resemble a feast from the Age of Heroes. They dig into roast boar served with fresh-from-the-oven bread, cheese and onion pies, and thick squash soup.

There's even cake, a luscious spice cake loaded with apples and dripping with caramel sauce. Sansa insists on lighting a candle in it and singing Happy Birthday, much to Brienne's embarrassment, but she forgets about it as soon as she actually gets a taste of the dessert. Ygritte actually licks her plate clean, shrugging unrepentantly.

She's pretty sure she sees Tyrion getting Hot Pie's contact information with a promise of future catering contracts.

There are even gifts, which moves Brienne almost to tears. It's far more than she ever expected to have and everything she receives is so thoughtful. Even from Tyrion and Bronn, whom she feels she barely knows at all. She’s ready to call it a night – and one of the best nights she’s had, truthfully, in a long time – when Margaery claps her hands and announces that it’s time for phase three of the party to commence.

Chapter Text

Margaery drags her into the bathroom and orders her into a dress that Brienne normally wouldn't wear in public on account of how short it is, before herding most of the group to a bar. Gilly and Sam excuse themselves to get the baby to sleep, and Arya is too young to get in, so she and Gendry wander off somewhere instead. Brienne looks longingly at them before she's pulled away.

Ygritte insists on birthday shots and Margaery keeps shoving more drinks at Brienne until she eventually finds herself drunk enough to mostly forget about the fact that her skirt only comes to mid-thigh and her pale, overly long legs are on display for everyone around.

She'd probably forget about it entirely if Jaime didn't keep sliding his hands up the length of her thigh and whispering in her ear about how much he loves this dress and all the ways he’s thinking about having her legs wrapped around him later.

She absolutely refuses to dance, and for a moment she thinks she’s going to get dragged onto the floor no matter what she says, but Jaime crowds her into a booth instead, draping his arm over her shoulder. He flashes a smile at the group, then turns to start trying to suck a hickey onto her neck in between dirty comments in her ear.

Margaery and Sansa coo about how adorable they are, while Jon rolls his eyes and tells them to get a room.

When they aren’t dancing, Tyrion and Ygritte amuse themselves by shouting tips and sex advice at them, which makes Brienne turn increasingly vivid shades of red. She finally pushes Jaime off and braces him at enough of a distance to prevent any more of a spectacle.

About the time midnight rolls around, everyone is thoroughly soused and Ros gets up on the nearest table to start demonstrating stripper moves for everyone, which leads to Shae and Podrick joining her for an impromptu lesson in things Brienne absolutely did not ever need or want to see.

She can't help feeling a little jealous, though, watching Ros writhe and pout sexily at everyone. If she tried that, the results would undoubtedly be cringe-inducingly pathetic instead of appealing and she wonders why it is that some women can do these things so effortlessly.

"Stop thinking," Jaime tells her, nipping at her earlobe while he's leaning in so she can hear him over the thumping bass.

Brienne scowls at him. "You don't know what I'm thinking."

"You're thinking that you wish you could look like that," he tells her, crowding closer again. "But you don't need to."

She sighs. "It would be nice to be able to act sexy," she admits.

Jaime slides his hand up from where it's been resting on her knee. "You don't need to act sexy," he tells her. "You are sexy."

Brienne rolls her eyes.

"You are," he insists, hand inching closer to the top of her thigh. Then he keeps going, cupping her through her underwear before sliding his fingers underneath, where she is already embarrassingly wet.

Brienne squeaks and clamps her legs shut, inadvertently trapping his hand.

Jaime chuckles.

"We're in public," she hisses at him.

"I know," he says. "But nobody's paying attention to us.'

They aren't, probably, especially since Ros has lost her shirt (and boy are her breasts very impressive) and Pod's pants go flying over their heads as he speaks. Brienne still shakes her head, glaring at him.

"All right, all right." Jaime wiggles his hand free and puts it back on the relative safety of her knee.

Brienne watches Ros and Shae dance, the way they undulate their bodies easily and the way their breasts bounce temptingly. They are everything women are supposed to look like, all soft, delicate curves and seductive smiles. "It doesn't bother you that I don't look like that?"

"Not in the slightest," he says, and then he's kissing her again and she almost does forget that they're in the middle of a club before she finally pushes him away and suggests it's time to leave.

On the way out, Jaime nudges her with a smirk and she looks over to see Margaery and Sansa entwined in a booth in a manner very similar to how she and Jaime had been, only Sansa's hands are definitely not visible and the expression on Margaery's face leaves little doubt as to where they are.

"Told you it wouldn't matter," he says triumphantly.

Chapter Text

Brienne is still pleasantly buzzed when they get back to Jaime’s place, enough that her head is already spinning when he kisses her and wow, that makes it worse, and suddenly she’s losing the ability to stand upright in an embarrassingly short amount of time.

Jaime doesn’t seem to mind though, pulling her down on top of him as he sinks into a chair, shoving her dress up past her hips. He slides his hand up the same path he’d taken earlier, smoothing along the muscles of her thigh before cupping her through her underwear.

“I love your legs in this dress,” he tells her between kisses. “I wanted to take you right there in the club with everyone around us.”

Brienne flushes at the thought. “Jaime,” she says, aiming for chastising and ending up somewhere in the vicinity of hopelessly turned on.

“Wanted to slip these off,” he says, plucking at the waistband of her underwear. “Slide my fingers into you and make you scream. Let everyone there see how fucking sexy you are for me.”

Brienne rolls her hips against him despite herself, giving into the urge to strip her dress off and toss it somewhere behind her.

He dives for her breast like he’s starving, sucking and nibbling and licking all the places that make her squirm and moan. She feels loose from the alcohol she’s been consuming, and hot with desire, and it feels so easy to just go with it, to arch her back and let him do whatever he wants.

“Yes,” Jaime breathes against her skin. “That’s it, just like that.”

It feels so good, but it’s not enough, and Brienne whimpers with frustration as she cants her hips forward.

“Lift up,” Jaime prompts, shoving her underwear down until she can kick it off and repositioning her so she’s straddling his leg.

Brienne realizes that while she’s naked, and oh it feels so good to be naked right now, he’s still fully clothed and reaches for his shirt, but Jaime shakes his head. “Later,” he says, using his right arm to pull her closer to him.

The roughness of his jeans against her center is perfect like this, and Brienne grinds down against his thigh. Some part of her thinks this should be embarrassing: she’s stark naked and squirming and mewling in the lap of a man who’s fully clothed, but that part of her feels very distant compared to the part of her that’s focused on chasing her release.

Jaime’s hand is on her hip, urging her on, guiding her while his mouth is busy planting kisses anywhere he can reach, whispering encouragement in her ear, telling her how amazing she looks like this and how all he wants is to see her like this all the time for him.

Then she’s coming, clenching and shaking and grinding even harder against her leg while he holds her until she slumps, boneless, against him.

It takes a few moments, but when Brienne reaches for his shirt again he bats her hands away. “This is for you,” he says.

“But I … and you haven’t.”

“Plenty of time for that.” His pupils are blown wide and only the thinnest ring of green is visible in his eyes. “Tonight is about giving you pleasure.”

Brienne buries her face in his shoulder. “You always do.”

She can hear him grinning. “Okay, tonight is about bringing you more pleasure.”

It sends a shiver through her despite herself.

Then Jaime’s hand is cupping her cheek, urging her to look at him, look in his eyes. “If it makes you uncomfortable, I won’t,” he says softly. “But what I really want right now is to see how many times I can make you come.”

How can he be so impossibly sweet and impossibly filthy at the same time?

He pulls her into the bedroom and she at least gets him out of his shirt, running her hands over the planes of his chest and thumbing at his nipples to hear the desperate sounds he makes before he’s distracting her again. He kisses her like there’s never going to be another chance, stopping just long enough to breathe before pushing his lips against hers again and sliding his hand between her legs. He keeps going like that until she breaks again, digging her nails into his back as she whines into his mouth.

Then he’s sliding down her body, kissing every spot he knows will make her ache for him until he’s settled between her legs. The grin he gives her is positively filthy before he’s running his tongue along her. He’s done this a few times, briefly, Brienne remembers, but he’s not stopping now. He dips his tongue inside her and it’s not as good as his fingers but it’s still amazing. Brienne thinks she should feel embarrassed, writhing underneath him like this, but she can’t not when it feels so good.

He traces patterns around her, stopping only briefly where she wants him until she can’t stop whimpering and moaning and begging. She can feel the way his stubble scrapes against her thighs and it feels better than she could have imagined.

Brienne weaves her fingers through his hair and tries to pull him to where she wants him, but instead of stopping he just groans against her, the vibration of it shooting up her spine, and resumes with even more enthusiasm. It seems like ages before he finally focuses, sucking on her clit and sliding his fingers into her again, pushing exactly where she needs him, and then she’s screaming out loud as she tips over the edge.

The next thing she knows, he’s kissing her frantically. She can taste herself in his mouth, sour and salty, and she can feel where his stubble is soaked from her but she doesn’t care. He looks as gone now as she feels, his eyes glazed over and unfocused as he rests his weight on her.

Why is he still wearing pants, Brienne wonders, before undoing the zip and shoving them off his hips.

When she feels his cock hot against her thigh, she almost cries with relief.

“Jaime,” she tells him, pulling him closer. “I need you.”

The sound he makes is almost broken, and then he’s guiding himself inside her and this, this is what she wants, the way he fills her is perfect.

“I can’t,” he whispers, hips jerking against her even as she can tell he’s trying to hold himself back. “I can’t go slow.”

“Don’t,” she says.

Then his hips slam into her, so hard she has to reach behind her head and brace herself on the headboard before she goes sliding into it and he’s fucking her like it’s the last thing he’ll do on this earth.

It almost hurts, how hard he’s going, but then he pulls one of her legs up until it’s over his shoulder and that’s perfect and her eyes roll back in her head.

It only takes a few more minutes before she feels him release inside her. That would be enough, but he pulls her close and keeps going until she follows him over and her legs are shaking uncontrollably.

Nothing in her body feels like it’s her own, she keeps jerking and trembling and making noises that sound obscene, but she can’t do anything to stop it and she should hate this, it should feel out of control.

But all she feels is how good it is, how Jaime’s hands slide over her skin and he whispers reassuring things into her ear until it stops, how his weight on her grounds her and keeps her from panicking.

“Happy Birthday,” he whispers, and then collapses, still inside her, and that’s how they fall asleep.

Chapter Text

On the Smith’s Day holiday, Jaime books a weekend trip to Maidenpool. They stop at an inn on the edge of town for lunch when they arrive – The Stinking Goose claims to have been in business since the Age of Heroes and it certainly looks as if it’s that old. It’s right on the harbor, though, and they order up plates of fried seafood the waitress assures them was caught just that morning.

Brienne believes it. They work their way through slightly chewy fried clam strips, perfectly fresh filets of cod and flounder dredged in delicious batter and cooked to a golden brown, along with fried cornmeal balls and heaps of crunchy coleslaw.

Jaime insists on spending a few hours in Maidenpool to look at the history, most of which is now a tourist attraction. The pink stone walls are admittedly quite picturesque and the harbor is bustling with activity even in late winter.

They take a tour of one of the historic ships, shuddering at the thought of having to actually use a boat like it for transport. It’s cramped and they are both hunched over the entire time because there’s not a single door or ceiling that accommodates them.

After the third time Brienne whacks her head on a door jamb she finally insists on leaving. She’s more than ready to go to wherever it is they’re staying, but of course Jaime says they have to visit Jonquil’s bathhouse and Florian the Fool’s tower.

Both have huge crowds even in the dead of winter. Jaime, however, is utterly rapturous.

“Isn’t it romantic?” he says, leaning against the wall.

“It’s a bathhouse,” Brienne says flatly. “And I’m not waiting three hours to go sit in a pool for five minutes.”

Even he agrees on that front, but he still insists on getting a photo taken in front of the window where Florian supposedly saw Jonquil for the first time. It’s wreathed with flowers and looks utterly ridiculous, but she forces herself to give her best photo smile -closed lips, head turned to an angle that diminishes her nose - for the photographer. At least until Jaime pokes her in the most ticklish spot on her side and she bursts into laughter.

Naturally, that’s the pose Jaime chooses to purchase.

They make their way to the tower next. There are even more flowers here, left by lovers and romantics. There are notes, too, scattered among them, proclaiming fidelity or begging the gods for romance. Brienne shifts quietly away from a young teenager who is sobbing as she places a bouquet, a litany of prayers falling from her lips as she beseeches the gods to please bring her someone who will love her.

“Imagine how great their love was,” Jaime muses, as they walk through the stone tower and pass an old, wooden bed heaped with blankets where the couple had (supposedly) consummated their relationship. “To have songs written about you.”

“You remember they both died, right?” Brienne asks, realizing the bed is also where they would have drawn their last breaths.

“But they died because of love.”

“They died because they were stupid,” Brienne argues. “And because Florian didn’t bother checking with the maester or waiting a few moments before losing his mind.”

He gives her a dark look.

“Also, killing yourself because you’ve lost your lover isn’t romantic,” Brienne says. “It’s depressing. If I died, that’s the last thing I’d want. I’d want you to live.”

“You don’t want to have songs written about our love?”

“Not if they mean we died because we were a couple of idiots.”

Jaime snorts at that and wraps his arm around her. “It’s a good thing I don’t love you for your romantic notions,” he says. “Because you don’t have any.”

That’s not strictly true, considering the feeling that shoots through her any time he says he loves her. Still, she doesn’t argue and also shoots down his efforts to buy tee shirts that proclaim them Florian and Jonquil. She also rolls her eyes at the local salts that are supposed to bring beauty and heal a broken heart when added to a bath.

She can’t find it in herself to object when Jaime picks up a bawdy book of sex positions illustrated with imaginings of the famous lovers, although she winces when she flips through some of the pages. There is absolutely no way a reasonable human bends like some of these suggest.

She also picks up a new telling of the Florian and Jonquil legend for Sansa – this one suggests the reason Jonquil’s family so opposed the union was because Florian was actually a maid in disguise. Given Sansa’s absolute love for the tale and how she’s handling her mother’s reaction to her dating Margaery, Brienne thinks she’ll appreciate it.

She does not take Jaime’s suggestion to add the sex manual featuring two women to the gift.

It’s dark by the time they finally arrive at their destination, a small cabin outside the town. It’s also freezing because apparently the cabin does not come equipped with electricity and Brienne busies herself setting a fire in the large hearth before they both dive under the furs and fall asleep.

When morning comes she has to admit the cabin is gorgeous – there’s not much in it beyond the bed and a large hearth, but it’s constructed out of old timber and river stones that make it look majestic. Even if she does have to get up and prod the fire back into life while Jaime burrows underneath the pile of furs and blankets with only the tip of his nose sticking out for air.

“You know the best way to get warm, don’t you?” he asks, snaking a hand out to grab her. “Skin to skin contact.”

In the afternoon they hike to a secluded hot spring using a map left on the table of the cabin. Unlike Jonquil’s bathhouse, there’s nobody around for miles and the hot water warms her down to her toes when Jaime coaxes her in.

They’re still there when the stars start coming out. She’s mapping the constellations she remembers when Jaime suddenly speaks.

“Tommen and Myrcella want to live with me.”

“That’s great.”

“Is it?” He looks terrified. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to do this.”

“You’re doing it already,” Brienne points out.

“Only sometimes.” He leans his head back on the rocks and sighs. “And are you sure you don’t mind?”

“You know I don’t.”

“But what if you get bored,” he bursts out after several minutes of silence. “We won’t be able to make out on the couch and you’ll have to stop screaming so loud during sex and there’s homework and dinner and you didn’t sign up to be with some boring dad, you’re young and you could find someone who doesn’t come with all this baggage.”

Brienne blinks.

“I do not scream loudly during sex,” she finally says.

“Jaime, oh Jaime,” he mimics, voice echoing in the darkness. “Please, harder, faster.”

She whacks him in the shoulder.

“I can be quiet.”

“Can you though?”

“And thirty-three isn’t that young,” she adds. “Even if it was – I love you, Jaime. We can figure the rest out.”

“I’m worried I’ll screw it all up,” he admits. “They’ll hate me and you’ll leave me when you all realize what a disaster I am.”

She can’t deny the disaster part, but: “You’re our disaster.”

Chapter Text

Brienne had been perhaps overly optimistic about how easy it would be for everyone to adjust to Tommen and Myrcella’s new arrangement.

The kids were delighted to move in and have a permanent place, but they seem to be the only ones. Renly and Loras mope about for days, while Tyrion claims to be loving his freedom but is actually just as sad. Stannis retains his usual grim-faced stoicism, but the number of angry emails about building rules triples, which Brienne takes as a sign of some deeply repressed sorrow.

Jaime is so anxious about everything that she’s surprised he’s not actually vibrating from nerves.

She, on the other hand, is nearly climbing the walls with sexual frustration. It’s absolutely absurd – she’s gone nearly 33 years of her life without sex and now she’s suddenly feeling like she might destoroy something because it’s been four days without Jaime’s cock inside her.

Except it’s not just his cock she misses, it’s everything about him. Her apartment that she’s loved for so long suddenly feels empty and lonely. She knows it’s temporary - they agreed to give the kids a week or so to get settled, but she didn’t think it would be this hard.

Sansa thinks it’s terribly romantic, of course.

“I’m a grown woman who has lived on her own for more than a decade. I shouldn’t be falling apart because I’m temporarily apart from my boyfriend,” Brienne says, stabbing viciously at her steak.

She really shouldn’t be torturing the poor dinner, Sansa is an excellent cook and everything is delicious.

“Well, you’re also making up for years without orgasms,” Margaery says.

“I don’t think that’s how it works.”

“Are you kidding? All that sexual energy you’ve repressed finally has an outlet, of course it’s how it works,” Margaery tells her, taking a delicate bite of potato.

“You love each other,” Sansa says. “Of course you want to spend time with each other. I feel the same when I’m not with Margaery.”

Margaery stops chewing abruptly and stares at her girlfriend. “You do?”

“Of course.” Sansa blushes. “Don’t you?”

“Of course,” Margaery says. “We could fix that, you know. If you moved in?”

Sansa’s face lights up. Then they’re kissing, and honestly Brienne has never found lesbianism terribly attractive, but the two of them are so beautiful and so obviously in love that she’s starting to understand why people find it so hot.

It doesn’t help her situation at all.

Neither does arriving at Jaime’s on a Thursday evening after a series of desperate text messages that assure her he’s feeling much the same way.

She’s barely stepped out of the elevator when his door opens and he’s pinning her against the wall in the hallway and kissing her frantically.

She kisses back just as fiercely, winding her arms around him and shoving one hand under his shirt to feel the way his muscles flex under his skin.

He whines into her mouth at that and retaliates by spreading her legs apart and pressing his thigh up against her where oh god, she’s so wet she wonders if he can feel it through her jeans. She can feel him, certainly, already hard against her hip. She moans at that, arching up against him and then –

“Uncle Jaime?” Tommen’s small and curious voice from the doorway.

Jaime’s head thunks against the wall next to her. “Just a second Tommen,” he says, not moving from where he’s pressed against her.

Brienne feels her face heat up, but she manages to smile over Jaime’s shoulder. “Hello Tommen.”

He grins. “Brienne! Myrcella and I live here now!!” “I heard,” Brienne says, trying not to laugh as Jaime starts mumbling all the Lord Commanders of the Kingsguard under his breath. It doesn’t appear to be helping his situation and Tommen is still gazing curiously at them.

Brienne slips out from between Jaime and the wall and pats him gently on the shoulder. “Tommen, why don’t you and Myrcella show me your rooms? I’d love to see them.”

The boy grins eagerly, but looks concerned when Jaime doesn’t follow, still leaning with his forehead against the wall. “Is Uncle Jaime okay?”

“Yes, he just …. stubbed his toe,” Brienne says, trying to think of something to say.

Tommen makes a face. “That hurts.” But then he’s tugging her down the hall, concern forgotten in his eagerness to show off his latest drawings.

She’s frowning when she returns to the living room, children in tow, where Jaime has pulled himself together and is clearing toys and books off the sofa.

The kids are clearly delighted to have a permanent home and they’ve strewn their belongings about gleefully, but the rooms are otherwise as sterile and impersonal as the rest of Jaime’s apartment. Still a terrible red and gold color theme, albeit more subtle, with furnishings meant for adult guests, not childhood adventures.

“When do you think you’ll decorate their rooms?” she asks idly, absently sorting a pile of crayons by color.

Three faces stare blankly at her.

"You know, personalize them a bit, make them your own," Brienne says.

"We can do that?" Myrcella says, sounding awed.

"I mean, Jaime, I don't know how you decided on the colors," she says, realizing she may have overstepped.

He shrugs. "It came furnished. I guess there was some interior designer?"

She stares. "Have you changed anything?"

"No," he answers, looking as though the idea had never even occurred to him. Brienne pinches the bridge of her nose.

"Well, how did you decorate your room growing up?" she tries.

That blank stare again.

"You didn't, did you? It was just done for you," she guesses. "Do you like how your rooms look?"

She's directing the question to the kids but all three of them chorus “no” in unison.

"I mean, it's your place, right?" she says to Jaime.

Over pizza, they talk it out – Jaime looks thoroughly overwhelmed by the idea of making those decisions, but the kids are delighted. By the time they've settled in to watch a movie, they've both settled on colors and Jaime has promised to find painters soon. Brienne nearly points out that they could paint it themselves before she remembers how tedious and awful painting is and keeps her mouth shut. Sometimes having money is useful.

The kids are engrossed in Matilda when Jaime shifts closer to Brienne and wraps his arm around her. He's already taken off his hand, but she leans into his touch and rests her head lightly on his forearm just above where his wrist ends.

It takes her a few moments to register that he's sitting on her left, which is unusual, and that his left hand is free. She catches on when he reaches over and starts casually sliding it under her shirt, palm warm against her stomach.

"Jaime!" she hisses at him.

"They're distracted," he mumbles into her ear, thumb starting to trace circles onto her skin.

Brienne's arousal had been tempered by Tommen's earlier interruption, but it flares back to life shockingly fast.

Jaime slides the tips of his fingers under the waistband of her jeans.

"Do you at least have a blanket?" she finally whispers.

He shakes his head, leaning in to nibble on her ear.

"Then no," she finally says, blocking him from moving his hand any further down. It doesn't stop her from clenching her thighs together in an attempt to seek relief, which she knows he notices, if only because he gives a shuddering sigh against her neck when she does it.

He doesn't stop torturing her either, even if his hand remains in a mostly-safe zone around her abdomen. His fingers trace patterns over her skin, as if he's trying to map the location of muscle. And he doesn't stop leaving light kisses and nips along her neck either. Her lip is raw where she’s biting it to keep from making any noise.

When she realizes the movie is winding down, she pinches him on the thigh – hard – and whispers at him to get himself together.

Tommen doesn’t even stir as Jaime carries him to bed and Myrcella tags sleepily along behind them. Brienne tries to pull herself together, but it’s very definitely not working and that’s what she’s going to blame all of this on, she decides.

When Jaime finally returns, she all but drags him into his bedroom and shoves him back against the closed door before lightly running her teeth over the tendon in his neck. Jaime groans and arches up against her but she presses him back firmly.

Brienne has never done this before and frankly she’s never understood why anyone would want to, but Jaime has made her come with his mouth so many times and it feels so amazing that she can’t help but wonder what it would be like to return the favor.

The sound he makes when she drops to her knees and starts undoing his jeans goes straight to her center.

She spends some time on the muscles of his abs and hips, biting into the muscles and sucking kisses along his abs before finally settling back on her heels and wrapping her hand around his dick.

“Gods, Brienne,” he moans. “You look so good like that.”

She strokes him a few times while she works up her courage, before wrapping her lips around him.

It feels strange, her jaw is stretched and she’s terrified of accidentally scraping him with her teeth, but he whines deep in his throat and she feels a rush of pride at making him feel so good.

She uses one hand to pin his hips against the door, feeling the way he’s trying not to thrust into her mouth, as she starts sucking him.

He tastes salty and bitter, but it’s not unpleasant, and she loves the way he shudders against her, how his face is slack with pleasure when she glances up at him.

It’s amazing to realize that it’s her making him feel this, her, big ugly Brienne. She slides her tongue around him, seeing what happens, noting the way he almost shouts when she ficks it at the underside of his head.

“Brienne,” he mumbles from above her.

She hums, feeling the way he shakes in response.

“Brienne,” he says again more urgently, running his fingers through her hair. “Look at me.”

She glances up before going back to her task and his fingers tighten.

“Look at me,” he says again.

She meets his eyes, watching him as she sucks him off until he’s pulling her away and spilling onto her chest.

He sinks to the floor next to her and they stay like that for a long time.

Chapter Text

Even after weeks of it happening, Brienne isn’t sure she’ll get used to waking up in Jaime’s arms. She always, somehow, expects that he’ll be gone or distant, but each morning they’re together he’s wrapped around her, solid and warm even through pajamas. Pajamas he hates but has grudgingly accepted after a few close calls with the kids bursting into his room. Brienne can’t get used to that either, the ease with which Myrcella and Tommen have accepted her once it became very clear that neither she nor Jaime wanted to spend any significant time apart.

She still goes back home a few nights a week, because this is new and she needs space. She can do fine on her own, she remembers when she does, even if she finds it lonelier and colder each time.

That doesn’t mean she can’t enjoy mornings where she wakes up in Jaime’s bed. Especially weekend mornings, when she can enjoy relaxing in his arms before she needs to get up and go for her morning run.

Jaime shifts and pulls her tighter, kissing sleepily behind her ear. Brienne sighs and snuggles back against him. She can feel him pressing into her back, hard and wanting, as she turns her head to kiss him.

They kiss slowly, his hand toying at her breast before sliding down to cup her sex through her pants. “I should get up,” she says half-heartedly.

He slides a finger into her slowly, teasing where she’s already getting wet. “It’s Saturday,” he argues.

“Still…” she says, losing track of her argument. She fumbles with her pants, whimpering when he removes his hand to wrestle his own partway down his thighs.

He doesn’t bother removing them the rest of the way. She hears the crinkle of the condom wrapper and then he’s sliding into her as soon as he has enough freedom to move. Brienne sinks back against him, sighing.

She’s not even fully awake yet, caught in the haze between sleep and full alertness, and it makes it feel almost dreamlike as they lazily rock against each other. Her pleasure stretches out until she’s quietly moaning her release into his mouth, feeling it spread through her body until she’s boneless and content. He follows her soon after, shuddering and sighing her name into her hair.

“I love waking up like this,” he says. “Who needs coffee?”

Brienne snorts. “You, we can’t stay here all day.”

“We could.”

“We can’t,” she says firmly, pulling herself away and searching for something she can run in. They’re of a size to wear each other’s clothes, so she doesn’t have to worry too terribly much about packing to stay the night, although she tries to be prepared. She’d meant to go home last night, but she’s got her sports bra in her gym bag leftover from Friday’s gym session and she can borrow everything else.

Although. She frowns into Jaime’s drawer. “Are these my shorts?”

“Probably. I think you’ve got some shirts in there too, though we can swap if you like.” He waggles his eyebrows at her.

Brienne huffs, spotting some of her underwear tucked in the drawer as well. Considering the state of the ones she’s wearing, it’s a blessing, but still. “Why didn’t you tell me I’d left them here?”

“I figured you’d need them.” He slides out of bed to wrap his arms around her. “I like having your things here,” he says in her ear, voice low.

“I…”

“After all, you’re here enough,” he continues. “In fact, you should leave more things here.”

He starts kissing his way down her neck again, and she has to push him away to change before she loses her resolve, and sets out for a jog around the shore.

She’s still turning his words over in her head when she comes back to the apartment.

They fly out, though, when she opens the door and sees the small, golden-haired woman standing in the middle of Jaime’s living room.

Brienne knows instantly that this is Jaime’s sister – his twin, he had told her – staring him down in the middle of the room. Jaime’s face is white, fist clenched against his side.

Cersei turns at the sound of the door, lip curling as she looks Brienne up and down. Brienne is suddenly aware of her body in running shorts and a long-sleeve shirt that’s soaked with sweat. Cersei is everything she is not, curvy and petite with long blond hair falling in waves down her back. Brienne knows that Cersei is cataloging her faults – her ugly, mismatched face, thick waist and thighs, lack of breasts and dull hair.

Cersei’s eyes are full of disdain. “And who are you?”

Brienne opens her mouth, shuts it again.

“Don’t you speak?”

“She’s my girlfriend,” Jaime answers between gritted teeth.

Cersei laughs. “Surely you haven’t sunk so low, brother, to bed a beast.”

“You need to leave,” Jaime tells his sister.

“Not until I see my children.” Cersei casts another glance at Brienne. “Tell me you don’t let that near them.”

“Your children are better off without you,” Jaime says.

The slap is so quick that Brienne doesn’t even see it coming, just the sound and the red palm print that blooms on Jaime’s cheek. She’s moving across the room before she realizes what she’s doing, catching Cersei’s wrist in her hand before she can strike again.

“You need to leave,” Brienne says, voice surprisingly steady.

“Stay out of this, you oaf,” Cersei spits. “You have no right.”

Brienne draws herself up to her full height, looming over the smaller woman. “He told you to leave.”

“You think you know him?” Cersei’s eyes are the same green as her brother’s, but there’s no warmth behind them. “I know him better than you. In every way possible.”

Cersei’s eyes narrow when no shocked reaction is forthcoming. “You told her?”

“I love her,” Jaime says, and Brienne can hear his voice trembling.

“This will ruin us,” Cersei hisses. “Ruin you, you stupid fool.”

She twists in Brienne’s grasp, snarling. “He’ll never love you, not like me. How could he?”

Brienne does her best to ignore it.

“How could he ever love an ugly, mannish beast like you?”

“Leave,” Brienne repeats, maneuvering the smaller woman towards the door.

Cersei keeps going. “Does he make you turn around when he fucks you so he doesn’t have to look at your face or your lack of tits?”

Brienne pushes Cersei through the door, but the smaller woman sticks her foot in to stop her. “You love him so much, don’t you,” she says, voice dripping with pity. “Following him around, taking whatever scraps he’ll throw you because you know it’s the best you’ll ever get.”

She’s closing the door in Cersei’s face when she manages to get the last words out.

“You know he’ll come back to me where he belongs.”

She can hear Cersei screeching with rage as she throws the locks.

When she turns back, she sees Jaime has sunk to the floor, still pale, and trembling now. Down the hall, she hears a door crack open and when she looks that way, she sees Myrcella and Tommen peeking out from his room, wide-eyed and terrified.

Jaime first, she decides, sinking down beside him and wrapping an arm around him as she texts with her other hand. "It's okay," she says, loud enough for the kids to hear as well. "She's gone, you're fine."

Jaime stops shaking but he doesn't speak, staring blankly ahead as Brienne tries to ignore the feelings of shame and horror clawing their way up from her stomach.

The cavalry doesn't take long to arrive, thankfully, and Renly and Loras distract the kids with promises of pancakes and a trip to the zoo. Tyrion gets there shortly after with bottles of wine – of course that's his solution to everything. Brienne gives him a brief rundown of what happened, gathering her things as quickly as she can.

Both Lannisters stare at her.

"Where are you going?" Tyrion sounds baffled.

"I can't stay here," Brienne says, her throat tightening. "Right now."

Jaime's face snaps up and he looks devastated and her heart clenches, but.

"It's not you," she tells him, cupping his face in her hands. "It's not ...I just need to get...I need to be alone for a little."

He looks terrified and she feels like she's breaking inside, but she can feel the bile rising in her throat and all she wants is to get out of there.

So she does.

She's busy losing everything she's eaten in the past three days when Sansa lets herself in. She pulls Brienne's hair back and mutters soothing words until Brienne is slumped against the wall.

She lets Sansa guide her onto the couch and wrap a blanket around her shoulders.

"I thought Cersei was in a hospital," Sansa finally says.

Brienne shrugs. "So did I."

Sansa waits quietly.

"I knew she was his twin," Brienne begins. "I knew, but seeing her...she's ..."

"She's beautiful, but she's a terrible person," Sansa says.

"She is," Brienne say fervently. "But I looked at her and all I could think about is that he's used to her, and I'm me, and gods, I must be such a disappointment to him."

She's crying now, tears falling, and she looks even worse when she cries, and this is why she couldn't stay in that room any more with Jaime.

"Brienne," Sansa says, voice firm. "I have seen the way that man looks at you and let me assure you, disappointed is absolutely not what he is."

"I hate that she hurt him," Brienne says. "I hate that she hurt those kids. I hate that I let her get under my skin."

She's sobbing harder now. "I hate that I can't believe the things everyone says they see."

"I left him," Brienne continues. "He looked ... he was ... I left him there and I know I shouldn't have, but I can't."

She trails off into nonsense and Sansa just puts her arms around her and lets her until she runs out of words and tears. Sansa produces a handkerchief from gods only know where and tells her to blow her nose – oh great, she's all snotty now, too – while she makes some tea.

When she returns and forces a cup of chamomile tea into Brienne's hands, Brienne has mostly pulled herself together.

"He's going to hate me," Brienne says morosely.

"He's going to be upset," Sansa says gently. "But he's not going to hate you.'

"I left him," her voice breaks.

"She hurt you, too," Sansa says. "She's good at hurting people.'

"How can he stand to touch me?"

"He loves you. Brienne, I see how he looks at you. We all do. He's not getting past your looks because he likes you, he wants you. Everyone can see it."

"I want to believe you."

Sansa sighs. "I know you do. But Brienne, you have to talk to him. He's going to assume it's him that made you leave, not you."

Sansa stays with her until evening, but Brienne stays huddled on the couch long after she goes.

She does have to talk to Jaime, she knows, and soon. She wraps the blanket tighter around her, looking around and trying to remember what it was all like before.

It isn't that she wants to go back to her life before Jaime. It wasn't a bad life by any means and she had accepted it for what it was. She could sit here, like she is now, peaceful and content with the pieces she had pulled together.

Now she looks around and all she can think about is all the times Jaime has been here. How he looked curled up under her blankets, the way he'd smiled at her the first time he visited, how at ease he'd looked unpacking takeout containers in her kitchen.

It's funny. When she was a teenager she'd thought that if someone could desire her, if someone could look at her with love and care, that it would make things better. That it would somehow erase all the years of taunts and cruel jokes.

But she still hears them in her head, even as Jaime's tried to replace them with whispers of desire and love, and Cersei is the worst of them all.

Cersei, who is Brienne's opposite and Jaime's mirror, who could have men dropping to their knees for a hint of her favor.

Brienne has always assumed that if she were to have a relationship, it would be with someone who settled. Someone else ungainly and awkward, perhaps average at best. She'd thought about trying to date Clegane, once, figuring two hulking, scarred people with trust issues might be a good match. She knew that, underneath it all, he could be kind, if not gentle, and that was far better than she'd been offered in the past.

But Brienne likes pretty men. It's a fact she's accepted about herself, no matter how shallow it makes her feel. She knows that it's absurd for someone like her to want such things, but no amount of rationalizing has ever changed it. She could settle, but she has never wanted to, and so she put it all out of her mind and accepted a lonely reality.

Then Jaime, like a hurricane, swept into her life. And changed everything, even the parts he had no direct involvement in.

Without Jaime, she wouldn't have the friends she has now, the class she's come to love teaching, people she can call when she's upset.

Without Jaime she wouldn't know what it's like to be touched as if she's something special and breakable and precious. She can't un-know those things now, no matter what happens, even if he decides to never speak to her again after today.

She'd come home to get away from it all, but Brienne realizes that no matter how far she runs, she can't.

Chapter Text

Meeting Jaime for coffee feels like their first date all over again, except with more sinking dread. It's a place they like to go on weekends, small and quiet with comfortable armchairs and excellent pastries. It feels more neutral than either of their apartments.

Brienne hadn't slept for more than a few minutes the night before, tossing and turning. Her eyes still feel puffy from crying and her face is still red and blotchy.

"I'm sorry," she blurts out as soon as Jaime sits down.

He hasn't shaved and his eyes are red too, she realizes, and feels even worse.

Jaime stares at the table. "So I guess this is it."

"I should have stayed with you," she tries. "But I couldn't stay and look at ...I knew she'd be beautiful, but I ..."

"You can't date me anymore," Jaime says dully.

"What?'

"I know you knew, but seeing her," a muscle in his jaw twitches. "I disgust you."

"No!" This isn't going like she had planned, this isn't how this is supposed to go.

"You left," Jaime says and his voice cracks.

"Not because of you."

"Then why?"

The confusion and hurt in his voice make her feel lower than low. Brienne feels the urge to run away rising again and tries to tamp it down. If she leaves now he won't speak to her again, she thinks.

"I saw her and I saw ... Jaime, I know what I look like. I know you say it doesn't bother you, but she's so perfect. And you loved her for so long."

"Loved," he says. "In the past. That stopped, even before she sent thugs to kill me."

He's looking at her now, at least. "Why can't you believe I want you?"

"I want to believe it," she says. "I try to. I do. I just ..."

When he touches her hand, he looks like he thinks she's going to bolt and honestly, she can't blame him. She turns her palm up and links their fingers together, wishing she could just go back to yesterday morning before any of this happened.

"Cersei was always there," he starts. "I was born holding onto her heel. She said it meant we were one person, that we were two halves of a whole. But it wasn't ... we were together, but only when she wanted. I did what she told me and she just used me. She doesn't care who gets hurt. Even her own children, our children, except Joffrey. He was her golden prince and whatever he wanted, even hurting his own siblings, he got."

Brienne thinks about Tommen's eyes peeking out from the door, terrified of his own mother.

"I thought that's what normal was. I thought that was what I deserved," Jaime continues. "And then you come along, and you're so good and kind. You saved my life and you didn't ask for anything and you deserve so much better than an old cripple with two kids he can't claim and a past that should make you cringe. You should run away."

"I don't want to," Brienne says. "You're good too, Jaime, and I want you, I just got scared."

He tugs her off her chair and onto his lap, ignoring her protests that she's too heavy and they're going to look ridiculous. "I wanted you there."

"I should have stayed," she says. "But it felt like ..."

"Like?"

"Like if you touched me, I'd break," she finally says, hoping it makes sense. "I'm sorry."

"I want you with me," he says, words muffled against her neck. "I want you in my home all the time, I want your stuff there, I want ..."

"I want to be there."

"You don't have to give up your place," he says. "I know it's probably too soon... but I don't want to go through that again."

"Me either," she admits.

Brienne feels strange stepping into Jaime's apartment again, the words Cersei had flung at her drifting through her brain. She's not the only one rattled. Jaime flinches when there's a knock at the door, and both kids wind up sleeping in the bed with them for several nights, which Brienne is honestly thankful for. She's not sure she could handle Jaime looking at her naked right now and this means they have no opportunity for that to happen.

She finds out from Tyrion that Cersei had managed to get a release pass for the day, despite the fact that she was supposed to be on strict lockdown, under the pretense of a family emergency.

It's bad, not just for them, but for the legal case happening, because the prosecutor uses the planning and deception to insist that Cersei is fit to stand trial and that the case against her needs to move forward.

Brienne does her best to prove to Jaime that she's not running away, even if she has a small panic attack every time she sees another part of her life mingle with his. She does try, bringing small things over from her apartment when she goes back to check on it.

Her pink afghans clash terribly with the color scheme and Jaime absolutely refuses to move them, although one disappears into Myrcella's room, now painted a cheerful sky-blue and decorated with a bedspread that looks like the galaxy. Brienne helps her put the glow-in-the-dark stars she and Sansa had bought months ago up, finally, in patterns that mimic the constellations.

Tommen absconds with several photographs of Tarth that sit on his bookcase next to crayons and coloring books. He's finally decided on purple walls, after hesitating for weeks because boys, apparently, are not supposed to like purple.

Both of them keep asking if their mother is coming back again, and Tommen bursts into hysterical tears and begs Jaime not to have to go live with her and Joffrey again.

Sansa smirks when she spots Brienne's things interrupting the lavish red and gold decor of Jaime's living room.

"So," she says, nodding at the window, as she sits on Brienne's office floor munching on a sandwich. "I see you worked it out. Moving in?"

"Not quite," Brienne says. "Isn't it too early?"

Sansa shrugs. "It's working for us."

"I mean, you look pretty moved in," Renly says. "That's definitely one of Nanna Alysane's afghans."

"I mean, it's just a few things." Brienne sighs. "Jaime doesn't want ... I don't want to make him feel like I'm about to leave."

"I say just go for it," Loras says. "He loves you. The kids love you. What more do you need?"

A guarantee that Jaime won't wake up one day and realize what a mistake he's made, Brienne thinks, but doesn't say.

"He's not going to change his mind," Margaery said, as if she just read Brienne's. "That man has been hopelessly besotted since ... well, probably since the first time you met."

"Unless you're having second thoughts," Renly asks. "You always said you weren't going to bother with someone you didn't really want."

"I'm not," Brienne says. "It's just a lot. I never expected any of this for me and I don't know what I'm doing."

"None of us do!" Loras says cheerfully.

“And if you have doubts, just look outside,” Margaery says dryly.

As if he can hear what they’re talking about, Jaime is staring through the window at her. He’s got a half smile on his face, which bursts into a full-blown one when Brienne starts blushing under his gaze.

She tells herself it’s going to work out.

Chapter Text

It’s incredibly strange to be standing outside the Sept on Maiden’s Day. Far less embarrassing than being the oldest non-Septa inside, certainly, but still extremely odd.

Embarrassment aside, Brienne has always liked the holiday. It’s less solemn than other holidays, with the littlest girls running around excitedly as they get to be part of a grown-up activity. Brienne remembers her first year, five and already taller than all of the girls and most of the boys on Tarth, how special she felt getting to go in when most of the adults had to stay outside.

Myrcella seems just as excited, twirling in her new white dress and carefully cradling the flower garland they’d bought from one of the vendors outside. She’s humming the songs Brienne practiced with her all week.

The Septas come by shortly after to gather all the girls who will be going in and Brienne recognizes two of them as they gaze expectantly at her.

“Oh,” Septa Myriah says, finally noticing that Brienne isn’t in white. She’s newer to the order, around the same age as Brienne and only recently finished her training. She’s always been nice, tactfully avoiding all the ways Brienne stood out in years past.

Brienne blushes.

Septa Donyse frowns. “Did you get married abroad?”

Brienne turns even redder as Jaime casually slips his arm around her and pulls her closer to his side.

“No,” she mumbles.

Septa Donyse hmmphs. “I thought you of all people would know better.”

Septa Myriah rolls her eyes. She gives Brienne a thumbs up behind Septa Donyse’s back as they continue on their way and Brienne buries her head in Jaime’s shoulder.

“Stop smirking,” she tells him.

“You can’t see me, how do you know what I’m doing?”

“I know,” she says, before finally looking up.

He’s smirking.

“Wishing you could still celebrate Maiden’s Day?” he asks, feigning a tone of innocence. His hand dips below the waistband of her jeans, sliding along the curve of her ass.

“Jaime!” She looks around to see if anyone saw – especially Tommen, but he’s distracted by a litter of kittens playing outside the Sept.

“I’m glad you can’t.” He squeezes, gently. “Maybe we should celebrate not-Maiden’s day later.”

She bites down on her lip to keep from making noise. They haven’t been together since Cersei and it’s still terrifying, but there’s absolutely no denying how much she wants him. “I miss you.” He turns her to face him, winding his arm around her back and pulling her close before kissing her.

“We’re in public,” she manages to get out when they pull back for air.

“We’re not doing anything wrong.”

She can see a cluster of women staring at them from the corner of her eye. “They’re all wondering what you’re doing with me.”

“Let them wonder,” he says before kissing her again, hot and deep, and she can feel it all the way down to her toes.

“I’m fairly certain Maiden’s Day is not meant to feature the deflowering of one outside the Sept,” a familiar voice drawls. Tyrion’s eyes are sparkling with amusement.

“Too late for that.” Jaime is entirely too smug.

“How fortunate for all concerned. Luckily for you both, I am here to take charge of my adorable niblings and leave you free to continue in a more appropriate venue.”

“As if you would know about appropriate, brother.”

Tyrion waves his hand dismissively. “Arrests for public indecency are shockingly hard to get expunged, and trust me, I should know. I’m merely saving you from the hassle.”

“And we thank you.” Jaime makes an exaggerated bow, before tugging her away and leaving her to shout a goodbye over her shoulder as Tyrion heads to where Tommen is happily surrounded by kittens.

She’s nervous again when they reach his apartment, and she tries to pour all the love she feels into kissing him.

“I’ve missed you,” he mumbles into her hair.

“I’ve been here,” she reminds him.

He’s already gotten rid of half his clothing and is working on ridding her of hers. “I’ve missed this, then,” he says.

She can’t stop kissing him, now that she’s started again. She’s familiar now with the way arousal curls in her belly and climbs the length of her spine as he runs his hands over her skin. The way he groans when she strokes the muscles of his back and wraps her limbs around him as much as she can manage.

She’s missed this too, she realizes, as he pulls her down onto his bed.

He’s looking at her like he can’t believe she’s here, not like he’s comparing her to his perfect, golden twin as she feared.

“I love you,” he tells her, over and over while he’s kissing and touching and driving her out of her mind. “I love you,” he says again as he pushes into her, rocking his hips gently.

He draws it out, refusing to go faster no matter how much she tries to urge him to, and keeps kissing her.

Brienne’s orgasm takes her by surprise, slow and sweet as it unfurls inside her. She’s crying, she realizes, tears on her face that Jaime is kissing away.

“I love you too,” she says, and that’s what tips him over the edge to join her.

Chapter Text

Even Twyin Lannister’s money can’t stop Cersei’s trial from hitting the headlines, and it hits big. The lurid details are splashed across every headline - Robert Baratheon’s fatal father-son hunting trip, Joffrey’s cold, calculating gaze in his mugshot, all the evidence of Cersei’s plan to murder her husband with their son’s help.

There’s paparazzi everywhere - outside Lannister and Baratheon apartments, camped along the gates to Casterly Rock, lining the streets of the courthouse.

Brienne’s blindsided by it the first day of the trial – she’s walking out of Jaime’s building and hit with a mass of reporters shouting questions and asking if she knows the Lannisters.

She keeps her head down and refuses to answer and for a moment she thinks she’s managed to escape.

That feeling lasts exactly four hours, until Pod comes in and tells her she needs to check Kaw. The social network is, in Brienne’s opinion, a plague upon society and she never uses it. Now it’s filled with photos of her – coming out of the Lannister building, on Jaime’s arm at the New Year’s ball, and every scrap of information that can be dug up on her.

Which, apparently, is a lot. There’s her professional work, of course, but they’ve gone as far as finding yearbook photos and sporting records.

The comments are not flattering.

Brienne goes back to her apartment that night and spends most of it lying in the dark wishing she wasn’t alone.

The next day, someone manages to get in touch with her high school classmates and the story of that disastrous party and bet get spilled across all the newspapers in Westeros.

She was always frigid, one quote says, she must blackmailing him, why else would he be with her?

Some guys tried to give her something to get her to relax, another says. She called it attempted rape, but really what did she expect looking like that? She couldn’t have thought guys like that would actually be interested. She knew what she was getting into.

Only one journalist calls it what it is – attempted date rape by force. She also calls out the fact that one of the men involved is now a judge in Westeros’ top court. The rest spend more time talking about how good the boys were and how she must have provoked them with her refusal to act feminine the way she should.

It’s below-the-fold at least. Top of the fold is taken up with the gory details of Cersei’s breakdown on the stand, shouting about Robert’s filthy whores and how she had to protect her children.

Brienne can’t even see Jaime – there’s too many cameras on the street and he and the kids have taken to holing up in the back rooms of his apartment where they can’t be seen. It’s disturbing how much she misses even just looking at him.

She spends that night at Sansa and Margaery’s, drowning her sorrows in wine and trying not to cry.

The next day, someone from juvenile tells a reporter that Joffrey had been bragging to his cellmates about how he shot his own father. How he and his mother were going to get rid of him so he’d stop pissing his money away on hush-payments and alimony for his illegitimate kids.

How he says his only regret is that he didn’t torture him before he died, because it would have been too obvious.

Cersei’s lawyer brings up Robert’s affairs and sixteen bastards. The lawyer produces records going back decades, splashing the names across the headlines.

The day after that, one enterprising crime reporter digs up a series of police reports regarding “accidents” with Bartheon family nannies. She matches it to a list of former employees and cross-checks the employee list with other police files and news reports, revealing a pattern of prominent teen girls working for the Baratheons and then having unspecified accidents shortly after working for the Baratheons and then disappearing from public view. She includes documents from a confidential source about a hospital visit for Sansa Stark, daughter of Robert’s longtime confidant and friend Ned Stark, that occured when she was working for the family. The reporter also pulls up a missing persons report for one Jeyne Poole, who worked for the family a few years later.

Police, working on that new information, recover the body of Ms. Poole four days later.

Sansa and Margaery join Renly and Loras in hiding out on the Tyrell estate, where walls and guards keep press at a distance.

Brienne goes back to her apartment, which is now surrounded by press as well, and tries to sleep without seeing the images of Sansa’s battered body or Jeyne Poole’s skeleton under a wash of mud.

The state charges Cersei with accessory to murder after the fact and announces the intent to charge Joffrey Lannister with murder and try him as an adult, pending the final results of the investigation.

Brienne decides to brave the gauntlet and go to Jaime’s apartment instead of her own. There’s no escape either way and at least they’ll be together.

When she arrives, they hold each other for what seems like hours.

The next day, a front-page story in the Westeros Times features a lengthy interview with a barista at a coffee shop frequented by Jaime Lannister and Brienne Tarth.

The barista recalls a tearful conversation in which Jaime indicated he had an incestuous relationship with his sister, confirming long-standing rumors, and that the Baratheon children were, in fact, products of that union.

Jaime punches a hole in the drywall of his bedroom.

“Does that mean my dad isn’t my dad?” Tommen asks, from where he’s playing with plastic dinosaurs.

Jaime sighs. “Your dad was your dad because he was there with you, every day.”

“He wasn’t a very nice dad,” Myrcella says. She makes her T-rex tackle Tommen’s brontosaurus. “He yelled at everyone a lot.”

“Does this mean we can’t call you Uncle Jaime anymore?” Tommen questions.

“You can call me whatever you like, buddy,” Jaime answers.

“I like Uncle Jaime,” Tommen says. “Can I call you Aunt Brienne?”

“Of course you can,” Brienne tells him.

“I like you as a dad better,” Myrcella tells Jaime, wrapping her arms around his neck as he tries to hide his tears.

Stannis Baratheon demands a DNA test after state attorneys uncover an old copy of Robert’s will that specifies his inheritance be left to any legitimate heirs by blood, and guardianship of said children be turned over to Ned Stark if both parents are incapable of caring for them.

Grim-faced evidence technicians come by to swab both children’s cheeks and Jaime’s for samples.

The crime reporter who uncovered the nanny attacks publishes a follow-up story that finds financial evidence of Lannister money being used to suppress investigation into Joffrey’s behavior and bury any stories regarding those events or the Lannister siblings.

A photographer with a telephoto lens bribes a resident in a nearby building and publishes photos of Tommen and Myrcella sleeping in their beds.

Brienne calls her father and Jorgen in desperation.

Two hours before she, Jaime, and the children board a boat, news breaks that Joffrey Lannister has been found dead in his cell.

Chapter Text

Brienne notices Jaime hanging back when they finally dock on Tarth. The two days on the ship have certainly been a culture shock for him – it's a working fishing vessel, not a luxury cruise – but it's the only way she could think of to get them out of Kings Landing without the press noticing.

"Jaime," she says, falling back as the kids follow Jorgen, chatting excitedly about their time on the water.

He peers out at her from underneath his hoodie. "Your father's going to have seen the news."

"Yes," Brienne says.

"He's going to kill me," Jaime says bleakly.

Brienne rolls her eyes. "He is not."

"If Myrcella came home with someone like me, I'd kill him."

"We've talked about it." Brienne links her arm with his. "He doesn't like it, but he trusts me."

She nearly drags Jaime the rest of the way to the house. It's near the docks out of practicality's sake, and because her father loves the view of the water. By the time they get there, Jorgen is hustling the kids inside while Alys stands next door watering an already-drenched patch of garden as she watches them.

Brienne throws herself at her father without a second thought. The emotional whirlwind of the past weeks seems to suddenly sink in and she's clinging to his neck before she can think about how it looks.

"Hi, Dad," she finally says, pulling away. "This is Jaime."

Jaime looks like he's heading to his own execution.

"So," Selwyn says, drawing himself up to his full height. "You're the young man who's dating my daughter."

Brienne elbows him in the side.

"Yes sir," Jaime answers. "I'm very lucky."

"It's good that you know that," Selwyn says, continuing to loom.

When they finally make it inside – after several more tense exchanges that have Brienne wanting to hit them both – Jorgen is flipping pancakes at the stove while Myrcella and Tommen stare around them in awe.

Through their eyes, Brienne supposes it is an odd house. Her father's decorating style has always been something in the realm of nautically eclectic, and the place is cluttered from floor to ceiling. It's absolutely nothing like the austere finery of Casterly Rock or the impersonal planning of Jaime's apartment.

During breakfast, the kids chatter excitedly. Myrcella had spent most of the day following the ship's engineer around and is bursting with all that she learned.

Tommen just can't stop talking about the ship's cats.

"Sounds like you need a cat," Selwyn says.

Tommen gets quiet. "I had a cat once," he says, staring down at his pancakes. "But Joffrey killed it. So I can't have any more pets."

He doesn't seem to realize that he's said anything unusual while the four adults gaze at him in horror.

Brienne thinks it explains the complete lack of reaction from either child when Jaime had gently broken news that their brother is dead.

"Well, you don't live with mom and Joffrey anymore," Jaime says. "So I think we can definitely get a cat."

Selwyn cheerfully offers to take the kids out after breakfast, and by the way both of them are gazing at him in awe, it seems like a plan.

One thing she did not think through, when planning this escape, was the reality of Jaime Lannister in her childhood bedroom. She cringes as he flops down on the white lace bedspread, kicking his feet up and taking in the light oak furniture, the teal walls the color of the ocean, the clipped images from magazines that she’d stuck up on the wall to remind her of her dreams.

“So,” he says. “This is where Brienne Tarth grew up.”

“Stop, please.”

“Did you lay here at night dreaming of the day you’d meet your prince?” He grins. “Am I everything you dreamed of?”

“No,” she lies.

“That’s right, I”m better.” Jaime looks around. “God, I can just picture you, getting ready for school and studying and getting ready for prom.”

“As if I went to prom,” Brienne says. “Renly and I got McDonalds and snuck into the cemetery and held a picnic like people used to do in the past.”

“Did you try to summon a spirit?”

“Maybe.”

“But seriously, no prom?” Jaime says.

“Jaime, really. Who was going to take me to prom?”

“I would.” He tugs her over to the bed until she’s sitting next to him. “I’d take you to prom. See you all dressed up, drink spiced punch, sneak out early and lose our virginity in the backseat of my car.”

“Is that what your prom was like?” she teases.

“No.” His face takes on a darker look. “I took Melara, because Cersei thought it would be suspicious if I didn’t have a date. She went with her friend Taena, because Robert was too old to be allowed in. I found out later she was fucking her, too, but that night … she told me to ditch Melara and then she … well.”

“I’m sorry,” Brienne says. She thinks about it. “Prom was only a couple months after – well, after that party.”

They stay silent for several long moments, before Brienne lays down and turns to face him. “What do you think our prom would have been like? If it were different. If you would have looked twice at me when we were teenagers.”

“I would have looked twice at you,” he says.

Brienne tries not to doubt it. “I definitely would have looked at you.”

“You’d have worn blue,” he says, running his hand up her arm. “And sneakers, because you hated heels.”

“True,” she says.

“And we would have danced all night,” he continues softly. “Then we would have snuck out into my car and I’d have driven out to one of those makeout spots to see if you’d be willing to sleep with me. To let me be your first. And to have you be mine.”

“You were my first,” she points out.

He looks far too smug at that.

“We’re not having sex in a car, though,” she says before he can get any ideas.

“You’re my first too, in some ways,” Jaime says, looking sad again. “The first I can be with openly. The first I can tell anything to. The first who doesn’t want to hurt me.”

Brienne reaches out to cup his face. “Jaime …”

“I love you,” he says, moving in to kiss her. “Brienne, I love you so much.”

Brienne runs her hands through her hair and tries to look less flushed as they make their way down the stairs, when her father yells up that they’re back home, but Selwyn’s look tells her that he knows exactly what they’ve been up to.

“Look!” Tommen shrieks, thrusting an armful of fur at Jaime.

The fur, which is black and white, mewls pitifully.

“Support his legs, Tommen,” Selwyn says quickly, and helps the boy adjust the cat so his back legs are no longer dangling below his grasp.

“His name is Ser Pounce!” Tommen says proudly. “And that’s Lady Whiskers!”

Lady Whiskers, grey and white like a paler copy of her brother, is purring contentedly in Myrcella’s arms.

“Um,” Jaime says, very intelligently.

“Dad!” Brienne looks at her father. “What are you doing?”

“They’re family!” Selwyn beams. “I have to spoil them, right kids?”

“Right, Grandpa Selywn!” both kids chorus, having clearly been coached. Now that Brienne takes a closer look, she sees that they’re both muddy, one of Myrcella’s braids has come undone, and Tommen’s jeans are ripped.

He must have taken them to the old mines to explore.

Brienne groans. “Dad,” she says again, jerking her head towards his study.

“Grandpa Selwyn is lots more fun than grandfather,” she hears Tommen say as they leave.

“I”m sorry, starfish,” he says. “But the way he talked about that brother of his, I just couldn’t not do anything.”

“I’m not mad about the cats.”

“Don’t pretend they’re not going to be my grandchildren soon enough,” Selwyn says. “I was pretty sure when I got your call, but seeing how that man looks at you, there’s no question.”

“Shouldn’t that be for us to decide?” Brienne says. “They’ve gone through a lot already. Jaime’s gone through a lot already.”

Selwyn waves his hand dismissively. “You’ll get there.”

“And if we don’t?”

“Then I’ll still be Grandpa Selwyn,” he tells her. “It sounds like those kids need it – and you had Nanna Alys and Uncle Jorgen when you were a kid, never mind they weren’t blood. But you’re going to get there.”

Brienne does her best to put the conversation out of her mind for the rest of the visit. The trip is a blissful escape. There’s no press here – a few try, making an educated guess as to where they might have fled, but Tarth is a small island and just because they only rule as figureheads these days doesn’t mean they are any less protected. Islanders don’t take well to outsiders. The few journalists that try get blank stares and clipped responses professing ignorance as to the entire Lannister scandal until they leave.

The one who dares venture into the neighborhood, hoping to find the Tarth home, gets soaked with Alys’s hose until his very expensive camera is turned into a very expensive paperweight.

“Oops,” Alys says, with false regret when he starts screaming at her. “I’m sorry, young man, I thought you were a tree. My vision’s not so good these days, you know.”

They spend their time visiting the beach or poking around in the parts of the old marble mines that are safe to explore. One day they head up into the mountains and stay there until the sun goes down, looking at the view of the stars from the highest peak. Without the light pollution of a city, they can see the shape of the galaxy itself in the dark sky.

Tyrion texts with updates from the trial. Nobody is sure if Joffrey’s death was murder or suicide and, as it turns out, nobody much cares. Cersei gets a whole new set of charges added on – there’s clear evidence that Jeyne Poole was murdered – and several old Lannister-Baratheon employees are arrested in connection with the crime.

Brienne tries to sign on to work remotely, but Renly tells her that she has about three years of vacation stored up and he’s expecting her to use it to cover this time. Jon Snow steps up to fill her role in the meantime.

The DNA tests come back and conclusively prove that Jaime is Myrcella and Tommen’s father.

“You’re sure about him, Brienne?” Selwyn asks her that night, sitting on the deck looking out at the ocean. “It’s a lot to take on.”

“Yes,” she says. “I know his past isn’t the greatest, but he is a good man.”

Her father watches her for a long moment.

“You know I love you,” he says. “So I want to make sure. You’re not just with him because you think you can’t do better?”

“I can’t do better because I love him,” she answers. “But no. I’m not settling.”

“I know you always thought you wouldn’t find love, but you know you’re amazing. Not just because you’re my daughter.”

“I didn’t think I’d find it,” she says. “But I wasn’t unhappy, before. I have people that care about me. I don’t need Jaime in my life, but I want him there.”

Selwyn seems satisfied.

By the time a month has passed, Cersei is found guilty on multiple counts. She’s sentenced to multiple life sentences with no possibility of parole until she’s served 80 years.

Myrcella cries tears of joy when they tell the children that they won’t have to go back to their mother and can stay with Jaime forever.

“I love you, Dad,” she sobs, flinging herself at him.

Brienne wakes up their last morning on Tarth to find Jaime staring at her. She can hear her father downstairs, cooking breakfast. Myrcella is singing along to some pop song in the bathroom down the hall and the thuds and meows indicate that Tommen is playing with the cats somewhere.

“I don’t want to give this up,” he says.

Brienne doesn’t either.

“We have to go back,” she says. “We have jobs. And lives.”

“That’s not what I mean.” Jaime laces his fingers with hers. “This. You. Every morning.”

“Jaime ..”

“Move in with me,” he says. “Please.”

Chapter Text

It’s almost the Feast of the Father when Brienne finally starts to move her things to the apartment.

She’d had some requirements first.

Number one was asking Tommen and Myrcella. She has a great relationship with her father now, but she remembers the years after her mother died, when he was lonely and grieving and going through women in an attempt to forget his loss. She remembers how hurt and abandoned she’d felt when she would come home from school to find a strange woman moving her things into the house.

The fact that they never lasted long didn’t matter.

Once the kids have given permission, she has her second request: no more red walls. They’ve been an eyesore since he moved in and she’s not about to stare at them up close every day.

The muted sage color makes the room seem a lot calmer.

Moving in with Jaime feels right in a way that Brienne doesn’t expect. Even if it does mean an instant family, which she still has trouble wrapping her head around some days. Yet it’s still odd to pack up her apartment.

She’s lived in the same place since she left college and it’s the first that’s been really hers. Piece by piece she’s pulled it together, and now it’s all being disassembled.

Honestly, most of her things aren’t worth taking, even the stuff she likes, considering how shabby it all is next to Jaime’s furnishings. But he’s insisting that she bring it, because he doesn’t want to make her feel like she doesn’t belong.

“And,” he says, staring down at her blue and green quilt, the one she’d picked up in a random antique booth because it reminded her of the ocean. “I think I like your things better anyway.”

“Aw,” Sansa says from the kitchen, where she’s wrapping glassware. “Jelly glasses. Man, I loved collecting these as a kid.”

“I’ll explain later,” Brienne says, before Jaime can ask.

Almost everyone has shown up to help her pack, another thing that mystifies Jaime, who had just been planning to hire movers to do the whole thing. They’d compromised – she’s happy to give movers the job of actually transporting things, but hiring someone to pack the boxes just feels wasteful.

“What about the furniture?” Pod asks.

“Just the trunk is going,” Brienne says, gesturing to her mother’s cedar chest. “R’hollor’s Army is coming by tomorrow to haul away the rest.”

Gendry appears behind Pod in the doorway. “Really? Mind if I take some?”

He looks thrilled when she agrees, and next thing she knows, he and Pod are borrowing a truck from somewhere and loading it up. He’s pretty ecstatic about getting some upholstered items because he doesn’t trust picking those up from the curb.

Jaime looks horrified.

“I got the best coffee table from curb shopping,” Gilly recalls wistfully. Baby Sam, strapped to her chest, gurgles his support. “I wish I hadn’t left it with my last roommate. That thing had an epic amount of storage.”

They keep swapping stories as they pack. Renly starts telling cross-country stories when he is boxing up her old trophies, somehow turning some of the most painfully awkward years of both their lives into something that has them all laughing.

Jon apparently has similar tastes in books as she does, so a good box of those disappear into his car, although he promises he’ll return them when he’s done. It doesn’t take long until everything is packed and they’re all sitting on the floor (Gendry took the sofa) eating pizza and drinking beers as Missandei finishes telling them about a terrible slumlord she rented from when she was still at the ballet academy.

“Anyway, he threatened to evict us all the time, but when I actually tried to leave he refused to give a reference to my new landlord and lied about it to my face!” Missandei rolls her eyes.

“Well,” Ygritte replies thoughtfully, “At least nothing was on fire?”

Then she’s off onto a story about how one of her neighbor’s ex-girlfriends lit his car on fire in front of the building, which then caught the building on fire, and somehow he slept through the entire thing until the firefighters were kicking his door down.

“Where have you people been living?” Jaime asks.

Sam pats his hand. “The real world.”

Brienne takes a moment after they’ve all left to just look around. Jaime wraps his arms around her. “Having second thoughts?”

“No. Just thinking about it.” She relaxes into him. “It was the first place that was mine, you know, that I got to make my own. I’m happy to be moving in with you. It’s just the end of an era, I guess.”

“I’ve never had a place that felt like mine.” Jaime’s voice is sad. “Even now – my father wanted me to move into the building to make it look better, so I just got the keys and showed up.”

“We can make it ours, then,” Brienne decides.

That’s the thought she keeps in mind the next day, when she’s unpacking and realizing how old and cheap her belongings look next to Lannister luxury. It’s not that she’s ashamed of it, but it brings up all of her insecurities about how they fit together.

Jaime, on the other hand, is over the moon. He beams as he store her collection of mismatched coffee mugs and cartoon jelly glasses in the cabinets next to his twelve-place setting of matching china. And when he arranges her trophies on a shelf in his – now their – office. And when he’s calling to order a bookshelf because he’s not a reader but Brienne finds the idea of a home without books to be the deepest of the seven hells.

It’s not the home she’s used to, but when they’re lying in Jaime’s ornately carved bed under her seafoam quilt, Brienne thinks it’s one she could get used to.

“You moved in a year ago,” she tells Jaime. “I never imagined that the obnoxious nudist across the street would become so important in my life.”

He tenses underneath her and clears his throat.

“About that,” he says.

Brienne lifts her head. “What?”

He almost looks embarrassed. Which is absurd because Jaime is never embarrassed. Brienne thinks whatever gene causes normal people to feel shame must have been bred out of the Lannister line generations ago.

“I have a small confession.”

“Okay?”

“I’m not actually a nudist.”

Brienne sits bolt upright and stares at him. “But you … you were naked. All the time.”

“I spilled coffee all over myself when I was moving in and the boxes with my clothes hadn’t been delivered yet.” Jaime flashes his most charming grin. “I wasn’t worried about it but I figured I’d go back to normal when they finally got here.”

“But you didn’t,” Brienne says, trying to process this.

“That first day – I saw you in your office and you were looking at me and the look on your face.” Jaime’s full-on grinning now. “You blushed the brightest red I’d ever seen and all I wanted to do was see how much I could fluster you.”

Brienne gapes at him.

“I mean, showing off the goods for an amazingly sexy woman didn’t hurt,” Jaime continues. “But it was just so fun to rile you up. I kept hoping one day you’d come over here and yell at me in person and I could get a chance to see how far down your blush went. I couldn’t believe my luck when I walked into Selmy’s and there you were.”

“You asked if I was a man!”

He shrugs. “I mentioned it’s fun to get you all worked up, didn’t I? I thought it was pretty obvious I was hitting on you. Even when I realized you were never going to figure it out on your own.”

“I’m going to kill you.”

He tugs her back down, uncaring. “No you’re not. You love me too much.”

“I’m re-thinking my opinion,” she says grumpily.

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” Jaime says, suddenly serious. “All of it. If it means I wind up with you.”

“Me too,” Brienne admits. “But you’re going to owe me for a very long time.”