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Heart That Matters More

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Brienne Tarth knew, somewhat abstractly, that Westeros got long, cold winters when she decided to move. She’s well aware that she has never experienced a real winter, and only vaguely remembers the one year snow fell on Tarth.

Still, it’s not the tropics on Tarth, Brienne is used to wearing sweaters and long pants, and she’s figured she’d be fine.

But it’s only October and her feet feel like they’ll never be warm again, and now the windshield on her car is covered in ice.

The delight Brienne had felt at seeing the frost sparkling on the grass as she drank her tea and looked out the window evaporates quickly.

Brienne has been sitting in her car, heater running, trying her wipers every so often and wincing at the harsh scraping noise, when there’s a knock on her window.

Brienne vaguely recognizes the woman as one of the other tenants from her floor.

“You’re new here, aren’t you?” The woman looks like a fairy-tale princess, her long dark hair falling over a pretty pink coat, the blue hat and gloves and scarf she’s wearing matching her boots.

She doesn’t look like she’s cold at all, while Brienne is shivering in her father’s old peacoat and one of her warmest sweaters and jeans.

“Yes, from Tarth,” Brienne answers.

“You need an ice scraper.” The woman holds up her hand. “One second.”

She comes back with a long-handled tool and begins chipping away at Brienne’s windshield with surprising strength. The woman, Brienne learns as she takes the scraper and uses her greater height for more reach, is Shireen Baratheon and she teaches at the local school.

“You need better gloves,” Shireen says, looking at Brienne’s worn fingerless mitts. “And hats and a lined coat. This is nothing for us.”

Brienne groans before she can stop herself. Shireen gives a little laugh, her hair falling back. Brienne catches a hint of scarring on one side of her face, somewhat at odds with the rest of Shireen’s delicate appearance.

By the time she’s cleared her car, Brienne has a shopping list for warm clothing, things like a snow shovel even though the landlord is supposed to clear the lot (“He doesn’t,” Shireen sighs, and then uses a word that’s very inappropriate for a schoolteacher, to describe Baelish), and a new appreciation for fleece-lined anything and thermal underwear.

Shireen gives her a wave and insists they must get together for coffee sometime, claiming it’s nice to have a normal neighbor.

Brienne doesn’t really expect she’ll follow through.

But Brienne does go shopping on Saturday, shoving her distaste for the chore back and clutching Shireen’s list.

If nothing else, it will give her a chance to explore the town she’s moved to. It’s been so busy since her arrival that all she’s seen is the vet’s office, the animal shelter, and her father’s new restaurant.

Briene’s first stop is the hardware store next door to her father’s place. It’s a small store, crammed with shelves almost overflowing with supplies. Brienne is staring at a wall of shovels when a tall, sturdy woman with a braid of honey-blonde hair that reaches her waist greets her.

“Need a hand?”

Her name is Val, Brienne learns, and she owns the store. Val is happy to help Brienne load up on things she’ll need — snow shovel, backup kerosene heater, emergency kits for home and car, snow scraper and tire chains — while offering advice about handling the cold.

“Thanks,” Brienne says. “I think I might be in a little over my head.”

Val’s eyes sweep Brienne up and down.

“You’re a sturdy one,” Val says. “You’ll adapt just fine.”

Brienne thinks it’s a compliment, although she’s not entirely sure.

To Brienne’s surprise, there’s a knock on her door one evening after she gets home from work. Shireen is at the door, a tupperware container clutched in her hands. It’s late enough that Brienne has changed into flannel pajama pants and a sweatshirt, but Shireen looks picture-perfect in a wrap dress printed with roses and a fluffy pink cardigan.

“I should have come earlier,” Shireen says. “But I brought you a house-warming gift.”

Shireen hands over the container, which turns out to be filled with a batch of butterscotch blondies, and when Brienne lets her in, crouches down on the floor to greet the cats, delighted.

Evenfall darts off to the bedroom, nothing but a fluffy tail vanishing down the hall, but Honor and Goldenhand the Just swarm Shireen for pets. Blue just blinks lazily from the back of the sofa, but Glory sees his chance and quickly moves to lounge around on the warm spot left when Brienne got up.

Brienne tries not to fumble too badly at being a hostess, but Shireen doesn’t seem offended by the lack of refreshments. Shireen, it turns out, has lived in Westeros her entire life and knows a lot about the town and all the people in it.

Brienne’s head is spinning by the time Shireen yawns into her mug of chamomile and excuses herself, and she’s taken aback when the smaller woman heads off with a hug instead of handshake.

It’s a few weeks (and several coffee visits, at Brienne’s place or Shireen’s very pink and meticulously furnished studio apartment) before Brienne musters the energy to tackle the remainder of the winter list. She’s spurred into action by the first snow, an inch or so of white coating the ground when she wakes up.

Brienne’s surprised to see her head volunteer from the animal shelter working the floor at Cregan’s department store.

“My parents’ store,” Sansa Stark explains, obligingly leading Brienne to the men’s section and helping her find most of the things on Shireen’s list. Fleece-lined jeans, heavier sweaters, thermal base layers and boots.

Sansa is gleeful about the entire thing, seemingly oblivious to Brienne’s lack of excitement. Continually trying to talk Brienne into clothes in shades other than black and grey.

Brienne accepts some of the blue and green sweaters Sansa unearths from the men’s department, but draws the line at the heavy cabled sweater in cream-colored wool.

It’s beautiful, but working with animals all day means it would be ruined before Brienne could wear it twice.

Brienne tamps down on the brief feeling of regret that she’s stuck with clunky, brown boots instead of something cute. Not that she’d wear powder-blue, fur-topped ones like Shireen, but it would be nice to have something pretty and feminine that fit her. But with size 13 feet, she’s stuck shopping in the men’s department.

That must be why she allows Sansa to coax her into the women’s department, even though Brienne is certain she’ll be disappointed once again. Nothing will fit, too short, too narrow, cut for women with breasts and hips Brienne lacks.

“We do alterations, and we carry plenty of tall sizes,” Sansa explains. She’s not exactly petite herself, slim, but definitely taller than average.

Still not as tall as Brienne, however, which means there’s at least some hope of things fitting.

Sansa seems determined, digging through racks with enthusiasm.

“Don’t you want something nice?” Sansa asks, piling dresses over her arm as Brienne frowns. “I know your job needs practical clothes, but we do have the town holiday party coming up.”

“I don’t wear dresses,” Brienen says automatically. “I can’t.”

Sansa raises an eyebrow.

Brienne gestures to her shoulders with a sigh. She doesn’t know if women like Sansa genuinely don’t understand how large Brienne is or if they’re just mean enough to want to see how grotesque Brienne looks in clothes made for dainty women.

Brienne doesn’t think Sansa would be that cruel. She’s always been kind when they’ve worked together, and Asha has nothing but good things to say about the woman who keeps the volunteers for the shelter in line. And Asha is one of the few women who has never had anything to say about Brienne’s appearance, aside from some startingly lewd propositions when they’d met as roommates. Thankfully, those were dropped once Brienne made it clear she was very heterosexual.

“Nonsense,” Sansa says briskly. “You just need the right dress.”

The right dress, if it exists, is not at Cregan’s, though Sansa tries to talk Brienne into a few on. Brienne eventually finds herself buying a blue jumpsuit that miraculously does fit, or almost. It even has a belt that ties to give her an illusion of a waist. Sansa assures Brienne the store can let out the hem and fix the inch of ankle showing. Brienne will also need to wear something underneath (the neckline plunges too low) if she wears it out in public, no matter what Sansa says.

Brienne feels entirely wrung out when they’re done, but there’s something kind of nice about having an article of clothing so decidedly feminine, even if Brienne will never wear it. And Sansa looks so pleased when Brienne says she’ll pick up the jumpsuit later.

It’s not like Brienne is going to go to the holiday party, and it’s not like anyone is going to care, but maybe it’s a good step toward a new start. That’s what Brienne had hoped for when she decided to move, it’s what her father has been encouraging as well. Between Asha, Sansa, and Shireen, Brienne has already had more conversations than she would have had in months back in Tarth.

Maybe Westeros really will be a place to get at least some of the things Brienne has tried so hard not to dream about.