“If I didn’t know better, Tech, I’d think you were trying to run away from me.”
Brienne suppresses an irritated sigh before turning around. She’d know the voice-- and the obnoxious habit of interrupting her whenever possible-- anywhere. “Good morning to you too, Dr. Lannister.”
“Jaime, please,” he corrects her, not for the first time. He’d once pulled the Dr. Lannister is my father line on her, and he’s known for friction with the elder Dr. Lannister, so she makes it a point to use his title whenever possible. “When you said we should meet up at the starting line I didn’t realize how unspecific that was. Didn’t you hear me shouting at you for the last five minutes?”
Brienne looks out over the large blocked-off section of city street, now packed to near bursting with thousands of runners. A large percentage of the crowd is dressed up in costumes of various kinds, some more well-suited to running than others. Catelyn had mentioned that the Riverlands Marathon was a bit, as she put it, quirkier than other races, but Brienne was still surprised by the number of runners in outfits of varying degrees of practicality. She sees lots of people in sparkly tutus, quite a few dressed as grumkins or snarks, and many decked out in regalia of the old Houses. One group consists of eight people each wearing a segment of a black dragon. They appear to be tied together, and Brienne questions the practicality of running 26.2 miles connected to seven other people. But she also has to admit they look extremely cool.
Ordinarily Brienne would say that Jaime looks ridiculous, in his metallic red tank top and uncomfortably short shorts--it’s still dark out, isn’t he cold?-- his golden hair pulled back into a perfect messy bun that she refuses to be jealous of. But in this colorful and flamboyant crowd he fits right in. Comparatively, Brienne’s limp ponytail, gray tank and black compression shorts just fade into the background, her only bit of flash being the sapphire blue sports bra she only barely needs but wears because it makes her feel like an athlete.
“I didn’t hear you until you were right next to me-- I had music on,” she lies, pointing at the wireless headphones stuck into her ears. “I’m not running away from you.”
In fact, she’s been standing in more or less the same spot for nearly two hours, having arrived at the starting corrals at 5am. Her 4:30 Sōvēs pickup had allowed her to beat both the rush at race checkin and the exorbitant surge pricing on the rideshare app, and she’d spent the remaining time trying to prepare herself. She’d stretched, walked a few circuits around the start area and gotten herself into her mental zone. Her headphones were wedged tightly into her ears, but she hadn’t actually put music on yet-- her playlist is carefully curated for keeping her energy up on the course but she doesn’t need extra energy now, bouncing on her toes with nerves and, if she’s honest, excitement to cross something off her bucket list. Before the race the headphones serve only to avoid feeling like she has to make small talk with other runners.
A trick that had worked until now.
Until Dr. Jaime Lannister showed up.
She shouldn’t be surprised, honestly. Ever since he waltzed into the biology division of Westeros University and took over the lab space on the top floor of the Pycelle building the man has never respected any of her increasingly-desperate attempts to avoid his notice. You’d think that being separated by four floors’ worth of labs would have made her easy to overlook, but he just kept showing up in the Stark Lab to ask Brienne for help with various instruments, make fun of them for lurking in the gloom of the subbasement, and generally make a nuisance of himself.
Three weeks ago she’d gone so far as to “accidentally” lock the door of the tissue culture room behind her, but just when she’d slipped into her well-worn routine of checking, washing, and splitting her carefully engineered cell lines Dr. Lannister was banging on the door, grinning through the narrow window at her and shouting that he’d forgotten the password for the Tyrell Lab’s qPCR machine again. She’d shoved her culture dishes back into the incubator and stomped up two floors with him to point at the post-it stuck to the side of the machine’s monitor, but her work flow was already broken so she’d ruefully accepted his offer to buy her tea to apologize. Which had turned into two hours of arguing at increasing volumes about his lab’s propensity for jumping to clinical implications of their findings before doing the basic research to understand the underlying mechanisms.
“Our computational predictive models--”
“Are based on insufficient data and you know it,” she finished. “I’ve already experimentally clarified that pairing of the first six nucleotides--”
“--Aren’t as important as everyone assumes. I’ve heard this lecture already, Tech.”
“My name’s Brienne,” she’d grumbled reflexively. He’d called her that ever since he first descended into Dr. Stark’s lab looking for someone to explain the ultracentrifuge to him and found Brienne doing her weekly ethanol wipe-down of her lab bench. It’s a requirement for working with delicate RNA, as he should have been aware, but he automatically assumed that Brienne was a lab tech, rather than the senior postdoctoral scholar in the group. Even after being corrected he continued to use the nickname, and once he found out she’d done her undergrad at the Crownlands Institute of Technology it only validated his choice. He’d once brought her a cardboard crown from Burger Warden and proclaimed it “a crown for my Tech from Crown Tech!”
The crown still hangs from the shelf over her lab bench.
“As I was saying,” he’d continued blithely, “we already incorporated your data into the model parameters. It brought the false positive rate down by 30%.”
“Oh.” She remembers noticing a warm feeling in her gut. Probably because she’s not used to anyone listening to her arguments, let alone applying her suggestions to their own work. Though the pleasantness had been counterbalanced by the way his sharp eyes and easy smile over the rim of his coffee cup raised her hackles for some reason. Why can’t anything be straightforward with him?
And this is the man she’s somehow committed to running a marathon with.
“You don’t have to act like you’re here with me you know,” she points out to him. “Pia and I were going to split up as soon as the race started and meet up again once she finished, so I wasn’t expecting twenty six miles of conversation.” Jaime’s lab tech had shyly asked to be Brienne’s occasional running buddy about a year ago after noticing her daily lunchtime routine, and Brienne had come to like running with Pia once a week or so-- it breaks up her usual lunchtime running routine and is a nice source of social interaction, even if Brienne does need to bring her pace way down. Pia is a good-natured, persistent runner, but she’s short and plump and her legs are roughly half as long as Brienne’s, and she laughingly describes herself as “the world’s okayest runner!”
Brienne herself hadn’t been running all that long-- her body had always been too bulky to be a particularly serious runner. She’d been a swimmer in college, but had taken to running during lunchtime as a way to deal with the stress of the last year of Renly’s assistant professorship, and just sort of continued to do it after the disaster that was his tenure application-- but when the Riverlands “RiverRun” Marathon registration opened up, she’d broached the topic with Pia. It turned out Pia also had “run a marathon” on her bucket list, so they’d signed up together and gotten down to training.
But two weeks ago Pia had broken the news that she needed to drop out. Her boyfriend-- Jaime’s office admin-- had managed to get his hands on tickets to see Martell on the same day as the race. And not even the cheap lottery seats, but real 1400-dragon Orchestra section seats, so it had been a tough choice for Pia. She’d trained so hard for the marathon, but she loves that show-- she’d put half of the songs on the workout playlist she shared with Brienne-- and had never had a chance to see it live. Then Jaime had magnanimously offered to buy her RiverRun registration…
So here they are, together at the starting line.
Together and standing in awkward silence. Because Brienne is the most awkward of awkward turtles, as usual. “How long did it take you to find me?” she asks, a little quietly. She’d feel bad if he got lost trying to find her, even though she’d been maybe a little purposely vague as to where they should meet up.
“About a minute and a half,” he admits. “You stand out in a crowd, Tech.”
She feels the blush and hates it. She should be used to people making cracks about her height by now.
He coughs self-consciously, “And, I mean, it’s not like it took me long to get here.” He jerks his head toward the ritzy tower hotel that looms over the start corral. Of course he got a room right on the course with less than two weeks’ notice. He’d probably still been asleep until fifteen minutes ago, the jerk.
She readjusts her running belt to avoid his eyes, checking the two little water bottles for leaks, catalogues her electrolyte chews and athletic tape (in case of blisters), makes sure her ID and emergency contact information are tucked in their pockets. When she looks up again she’s almost surprised to find Jaime still standing there.
“Robb says to keep an eye out for the salmon,” she blurts. Real smooth, nerd.
“It’s a RiverRun tradition I guess. A bunch of frat boys from River Chi put on fish costumes and run the route in reverse.”
He chuckles. “Okay that’s kind of cute.”
“I suppose. The ones you want to steer clear of are the guys from Beta Mu.”
“What do they do?”
“Dress up as bears, get roaring drunk, and lie in wait to beat up the salmon.”
“The future leaders of Westeros, ladies and gentlemen.”
She snickers at that before she can stop herself and he smiles in return.
“So what’s your goal time?” he asks, clearly fishing for a conversational opener that she’s capable of picking up.
“Well, anything counts as a PR since it’s my first marathon--”
“Sorry, personal record. But my main goal is just to finish.”
“Of course it is, good old boring conservative Tech. What time are you hoping for though?”
“Five hours,” she admits, a little afraid to say it out loud such that Jaime will know if she fails. “4:45 would be incredible but it doesn’t seem likely.”
“I’m going for four, thanks for asking.”
“Have you been secretly making super-soldier serum in that fancy lab and testing it on yourself? What training program have you been using?”
“A six-week program I saw on the internet,” he replies.
“That’s an… intense way to have fun outside of lab.” It frankly sounds miserable to Brienne-- ramping up to that distance that quickly, and without a race to cap it off as a reward or goal. But Jaime clearly has a different definition of fun than she does. “Good thing for you that Pia couldn’t use her RiverRun registration.”
“Yeah, right when I’d be at peak readiness,” he says, not quite meeting her eyes. “Guess I’m just lucky.”
Of course he’s lucky. Things just seem to work out for him in a way they never do for Brienne, so why should marathon training be any different? His aggressive, confident prettiness is really starting to get to her. Well, it’s been getting to her since she met him but the feeling is more pronounced now. Fortunately, before she has to figure out how to respond to that, the absurdly chipper race MC gives them the five-minute warning and the crowd begins to press up toward the starting line.
“Ready to test your stamina against mine?” Jaime asks with a smirk, using her shoulder for balance to stretch his quads one last time.
“It’s not a competition,” she murmurs, only half paying attention. “As long as we both finish.” He turns his face away, coughing, and Brienne hopes the morning cold isn’t affecting his lungs too much. She twists the armband holding her phone so she can start her music, then hovers a hand over her GPS-tracking watch, ready to start her time to sync with the official race clock.
She can tell he’s about to say something smartassed, but he’s cut off by the starting gun and a cheer from the crowd, and then they’re off.
The first three miles feel amazing as they weave through downtown city streets-- she’s trained and ready, primed for this run and excited to be doing it. She finally has something to do with the nervous energy of the previous two hours. And it doesn’t hurt that she managed to lose Jaime in the crowd within thirty seconds of the start.
That whole first half mile or so had been a bit of a scrum. Some of the goofier costumes caused crowding problems-- the group all dressed as white walkers had insisted on shambling forward in a cluster rather than running, and some ill-advised but extremely detailed dire wolf costumes drew quite a lot of attention. The relay runners pulled away quickly, since they only have to do 5 or 10k until the next runner in line takes over. One, wearing a shirt proclaiming him to be on team Brave Companions, grabbed her ass on his way past, and Brienne had been startled enough that he was gone before her usual “curb stomp the assaulter” reflex made it out of her brain.
She’s had to do a bit of dodging through the crowd even after that, as participants settle into their paces, but after the first 5k she’s doing her thing, feeling her body doing what she’s trained it to do, and feeling good.
Her playlist is perfect.
But in order to get to the heart of things sometimes you have to cut through
(But you can)
Just keep following the heartlines on your hand
Keep it up, I know you can...
She’s breathing easily, in for three steps, out for two. The sun is rising and she’s a marathon runner.
Of course it doesn’t last.
“You’re going too slow.”
Jaime trots up from behind, making a show of how easy he finds her pace. She rolls her eyes and knows he’s wrong but she checks her watch anyway. “My pace is just fine, Dr. Lannister. Maybe a little too fast, if anything. It would be dumb to blow all my energy this early.” She’s pleased that she still has the air necessary to chat-- it verifies that her pace and breathing are correct.
“Okay, sure, but consider this: you’re going too slow.”
“I am not.” She refuses to look at him. She picks up her mantra, one word on each step, timed for her breaths: I can and I will.
“Whatever. See you at the finish line.” He lopes ahead, the morning sun glinting off his hair, his gait flexing his calves, hamstrings, and--
Brienne huffs and turns up the volume on her music.
What a thing to do
oh what a thing to choose….
In Brienne’s opinion there’s exactly the wrong density of runners on this course.
She’d never had any problem regulating her pace during training runs. Between the data from her watch and her own self-discipline an even speed came fairly easy to her. Jaime would probably call it boring, but it’s just good sense. Letting the energy and emotion of the race’s start set her pace too high would set her up for a miserable-- and probably slower overall-- back half of the run.
The problem is that her training runs were all either on a gym treadmill or around the WU campus loop road, neither of which included the hazard of other runners.
Just after the Mile 6 water station, as the course begins to skirt around the edge of the city’s enormous central park, Brienne finds herself slowly approaching a pair of runners whose pace is just a tiny bit slower than her own. They’re both women, though all Brienne can make out from behind them is that one has dark hair pulled into a high puff, and the other’s pale hair is braided and pinned elaborately all around her head. As she pulls up next to them they throw her bright smiles and the taller, dark-haired woman even waves. Brienne jerks her head upward in acknowledgement and then immediately panics because she has no idea what to do next.
She does want to be going slightly faster than them, but she feels like edging out ahead of them slowly over time would be the most awkward possible choice. Would she need to talk to them while she was within range? What would count as conversation range? What would they even talk about? At what point would she have to say “well, see you at the finish line”? Would that be rude? Would “good luck” be a better thing to say?
She turns her head forward and nods a bit to her music, trying to imply that she’s in the zone and can’t hear them if they try to talk, and puts on a burst of speed to get ahead of them as quickly as she can. Her playlist is blessing her with a nice heavy bass drum beat to help her through the short sprint.
You know you can't keep lettin' it get you down
And you can't keep draggin' that dead weight around
If there ain't all that much to lug around
Better run like hell when you hit the ground
She’s just about to drop back to her earlier pace when she realizes she’s coming upon another group. Oh gods. She lengthens her strides past them, offering a smile that, knowing her, probably looks more like a grimace. She hopes they don’t think she’s making fun of them, or pitying them for going slower than she is. But as it’s either risk them thinking she’s a snob or risk having to make small talk for who knows how long, Brienne is forced to reluctantly choose the former. Even if it means she’s well off her intended pace and in danger of wasting her carefully rationed energy.
Her steps even out again, her breath falling back into its familiar pattern. Just in time to come up beside yet another fellow runner.
It’s going to be a long marathon for this socially anxious nerd.
It would be easier if Jaime was here. Well, maybe not easier, but at least it would be familiar. Safe. He certainly wouldn’t care what other runners think of his pace or whether he says hello or not. And they would see that she was with someone and therefore clearly capable of human interaction. They might even mistake her for a normal person with normal-person social skills. If they tried for small talk, Jaime is good at that sort of thing.
He’d rescued her like that at the last few biology department happy hours. It’s gotten to the point where she can rely on him to come swooping down from his lab and make directly for where she stands off to the side, hovering self-consciously between her desire to leave and her desire for another handful of department-subsidized oreos. He usually has some snarky comment ready that she’ll have to struggle not to laugh at, about the boring questions Stannis asks at seminars or Mance’s tyrannical rules for use of his lab’s cryo electron microscope. One time he simply sidled up to her, swept into some sort of courtly bow and asked “May I have this dance?” just to snap a picture of her bewildered reaction on his phone. But he always snags a bottle of cider for her on the way over, and it’s nice to have someone to socialize with, even if their conversations are invariably him riling her up over something trivial.
Brienne catches herself. When had she started wishing for Jaime’s presence? Shaking her head to clear it, she realizes she’s come up next to another group of runners and they probably think she’s a weirdo. She keeps her eyes forward and pushes her pace for another ten strides, deciding that her bizarre thoughts about Dr. Lannister probably mean her brain is slowing down to funnel energy resources to her muscles. She digs a carbohydrate/electrolyte chew out of her belt and shoves it into her mouth, pushing Dr. Lannister out of her mind to focus on…
...another group of runners going just slightly slower than she is. With a sigh she pushes herself into yet another ten second sprint.
The crowd is finally thinning out to a more comfortable level, though Brienne calculates she’s gone at least ten minutes too fast. The course is beginning to wind through the park, past fountains and monuments, the morning sun glinting off the burnished surfaces. As Brienne takes the turn out toward the lake… oh for Seven’s sake.
It’s not just that Jaime is there. That would be annoying on its own. What really convinces Brienne the gods are fucking with her is the fact that he’s bent double, stretching, facing away from her. It would have been bad enough to stumble upon Jaime but--
She’s been ambushed by his ass.
His ass, and his hamstrings, and his calves. Everything she’d been equally fascinated by earlier.
That’s just not fair.
“Tech!” he calls, standing up too fast and trying to cover the wobble in his step as blood rushes away from his brain. She considers pretending she didn’t notice it was him, but gives it up as a waste of her precious energy, emotional or otherwise.
“Dr. Lannister,” she acknowledges tersely as she passes. He picks up speed gradually to match her. “Am I going fast enough for you now?”
“I just wanted to see if you’d pursue me,” he smirks. “And look, you did!”
“Mm-hm,” she hums. “Why are you really here?”
He laughs on an out-breath. “Just a cramp. I’ll be leaving you in my dust any minute now.”
“Hamstring. I stretched it out but I don’t think it’ll be back to normal until I can get a massage.”
“I’m not rubbing your ass, so don’t even ask.” She hands him one of her fruit-punch electrolyte chews. He snatches it from her hand and pops it in his mouth without thanking her.
“I meant after the race, Tech,” he says around the sticky mouthful. “But if you change your mind I wouldn’t be opposed….”
We are made of our longest days
We are falling but not alone
We will take the best parts of ourselves
And make them gold
Half a mile passes in silence, but Brienne can’t help but needle him. “I’m not seeing any dust.”
“I may possibly have overestimated my pace.”
“Perish the thought.”
“I guess you’re stuck with me. We don’t get to choose who we run with, do we Tech?”
She wants to argue, to mention that she spent the first quarter of the race choosing to risk a foolish pace just to avoid running with anyone else. But he might read something into that information so she makes a noncommittal noise and goes back to counting breaths.
A little beyond mile 10 the course opens up into grassy soccer fields on both sides, and there’s a tent setup with flashy logos for some sort of energy supplement called “Weirgoo” and of course a team of enthusiastic women handing out samples. Jaime snatches a pouch from one of them, who giggles and gives him an encouraging pat on his shoulder, right where his tank top frames his deltoid.
A less excited team member halfheartedly offers Brienne a sample and she waves her off, trying for a polite close-lipped smile.
Jaime’s already tearing the tab off his packet. Its label declares it The Pear and the Melon Fair and Brienne can’t imagine anything less appetizing. “I don’t think that’s wise,” she warns him, knowing it’s futile. “It’s not a good idea to put anything unfamiliar in your mouth during a race.”
“Oh really, Tech? Spend a lot of time thinking about my mouth?” he counters, smirking. “What about after the race?” She looks sidelong at him as he squirts the sickly, beige-green slime into his mouth. “I’d be happy to have something else unfamiliar in my-- CRONE’S TITS THIS IS AWFUL!” He veers to the side to bend and spit into a bush then returns, wiping his tongue on his forearm like a toddler.
Hopefully the display keeps him too busy to notice the blush she knows is making itself evident on her face. Or the fact that she may have taken the opportunity of his goo-spitting to observe his ass in less ambush-y circumstances.
“Gods I can still taste that goo,” he mutters, smacking his lips and making a face, as they pass the mile 12 marker.
It takes all the energy she can spare to stop herself from saying she told him so.
Cross my heart, hope to die
Taking this one step at a time
I got your back if you got mine
One foot in front of the other
Just past mile 13 Brienne realizes this is now officially the longest she’s ever run in a race. She takes a deep breath to absorb that knowledge, then lets it out in a gusty sigh that feels good in her chest.
Then she remembers that it still means she’s only just over halfway done.
“So who’s waiting for you at the finish line?” Jaime asks, because thirteen miles in is a great time for small talk. He’s largely contented himself with a running commentary on the scenery, any other runners they pass, and whatever random thoughts float through his head. His sentences got steadily shorter, broken up by hard breaths, but he persisted. It hadn’t required any interaction from her and thus suited her fine. She lumped him in the ambient noise and kept moving forward. But now he’s using question marks, the bastard. “Boyfriend?” He lets the question hang in the air between them just a second too long before continuing. “Girlfriend?” Another pause. “Horse you’re particularly fond of?”
She doesn’t reply. Both because come on-- horse?-- and because it’s a sore subject that she’s not sure she wants to get into with Jaime Lannister of all people. A few years before, while she was working in his lab, Renly had talked her into doing a charity half marathon with him. She’d never run so long at a go, but she’d already been in decent shape so she trained carefully for two months and was excited for the challenge. Not to mention a couple hours spent with Renly, just the two of them. They hadn’t really had a chance to hang out since undergrad, and with the stress of his tenure application they’d barely even spoken a non-science word to each other in the previous six months.
And then they’d reached the finish line, where Renly barreled into the waiting arms of his cheering boyfriend. Brienne forced herself to look away-- she was happy for them, happy that Renly had someone to witness his accomplishment. She’d ducked past the race photographer, grabbed her free banana, and then quietly took the first non-packed bus she could find to go home. Her official time came through her email while she was still crammed into a seat between two sweaty teenage boys-- she’d beaten her goal time by ten full minutes. Huzzah, she’d thought as she returned to her silent apartment. A shower and a bowl of macaroni and cheese later she’d found herself back in lab, trying to cram a few more experiments into the weekend to bolster Renly’s tenure package, just a normal Saturday. She hadn’t even seen Renly again until Monday morning.
“I take it that’s a no?”
“No. Just me and the clock.”
Jaime is blessedly quiet for a moment. “Nobody’s waiting for me either, you know.”
“Doesn’t your family live in town?”
“I mean, a marathon is a pretty big deal…?”
The wheels turn slowly in her head, her brain sluggish with all available resources being sent to her legs. She’d just assumed he had loads of people who’d care about his race since he always seemed to have someone knocking on his office door or asking after him or calling Brienne’s godsdamned lab phone because he wasn’t picking up his. There’s a story there, and Brienne is not at all sure it’s her place to ask. She doesn’t think he’d be interested in her sympathy, though surprisingly she’s not as sure about that assumption as she might have expected.
“Yeah,” he says quietly, as if responding to her thoughts. “Bummer, right?”
“Tell you what, after I cross the finish line I’ll wait for you.”
“Bit of a bold assumption there, Ser Aymin Payne.”
“And since you’ve got nowhere to be afterwards you can come back to my hotel room with me. To recover and all. Get cleaned up. You know. It’s half a block from the finish line, so you wouldn’t have to wait three hours for the next available rideshare….” he trails off.
“Your hotel room is half a block from the start,” she reminds him.
Gods. Rich people. At least he looks a little abashed about it.
“It does have a hot tub….” he offers, and she rolls her eyes.
The crowd has completely thinned out, and the path is winding enough that it feels like they’re the only ones on the course. The next several miles wind through the more forested parts of the park, so it’s pleasantly shaded if a bit isolating.
“You don’t think we took a wrong turn, do you?” Jaime asks.
Before she can answer they hear a commotion around the next bend and suddenly a pack of men in fish costumes stagger into view. They charge down the middle of the path, forcing Jaime to dodge to the left side while Brienne hugs the right edge.
A particularly large Fish with a bushy red beard ogles her as he approaches. “Wanna spawn?” he asks with a clumsy wink.
“No thanks,” she says weakly, unenthusiastically accepting a consolation high five from him before he’s past her.
“That was… interesting.” Jaime grumbles once the school has passed and he’s back at her side again. She shrugs. It’s not like she’s never been shouted at while running before.
Hells, the first time Jaime had seen her on a lunchtime run-- he happened to be crossing the main campus loop road just as she passed-- he’d said something to the effect of “Brienne! You’ve got thighs!” She’d glowered about it for the rest of the day but thinking back now on the way he’d stopped in his tracks and how her name-- and not “Tech”-- had come out more like a yelp, she has to wonder if maybe--
“Oi!” a voice calls from behind them. Brienne turns her head, not looking forward to a second round from the bearded Fish. Instead, it’s a couple of men wearing race bibs that mark them as relay runners. Their shirts say Brave Companions, and Brienne jerks her head back around, remembering her encounter with one of their teammates during the starting line stampede. They look annoyingly non-exhausted, and she remembers they’ve probably only been running two or three miles at this point.
“Lookit, Vargo! What a lovely couple!” one calls to the other. Brienne keeps her eyes focused ahead of her, knowing her blush is spreading and hoping that Jaime won’t see it. It’s one thing when people insult her-- she doesn’t like it of course but she’s more or less used to it-- but using her as a means to insult Jaime hurts at least twice as much. She wants to say something, reassure Jaime that of course he doesn’t have to worry about being romantically linked to her, that nobody would ever believe it anyway, but she doesn’t trust herself to attempt that conversation sixteen miles into a marathon.
“What is this, asshole mile?” Jaime growls just loud enough for her to hear.
“But hang on,” the other relay runner replies with a laugh as they draw closer, “I can’t tell who’s the knight and who’s the lady.”
“They must be blind,” Jaime murmurs, still bending his head toward her. “You’re obviously both.”
Something happens in her stomach that’s distinctly different from the being-accosted tension. Before she can figure out how to respond to him, the two Companions split to pull even, flanking Jaime and Brienne on either side. She keeps her eyes forward, hoping to just not engage. “Hey!” the one beside Brienne sneers. “We’re talking to you!”
“Your interest is flattering,” Jaime replies flatly, “but sadly I’m too busy with work, and you’re well beneath her notice so I suppose you’re just going to have to fuck right off.”
It all happens in a split-second. The one beside Jaime puts his foot directly into his path just in time for the other to drop behind Jaime to give him a hard shove. Jaime pitches forward and hits the ground with a grunt and a loud “Fuck!” Brienne skids to a stop and drops to a knee beside him and he moans as the two relay runners speed off, still laughing.
“Jaime,” she sighs. “You didn’t need to antagonize them like that. Not on my behalf.”
He groans and she helps him to a sitting position, assaying his array of roadburn on elbows and knees and wincing in sympathy. She takes one of her emergency backup water bottles from her belt and squirts a little at the raw spots on his knees, then pulls her tank top over her head to help wipe the worst of the grit out of the wounds. He’s hissing through his teeth but she’s actually a little surprised he’s not being more of a baby.
“I don’t have any bandages,” she says apologetically, making a note to put a handful of them into her belt if she’s ever foolish enough to attempt another marathon. “I have some athletic tape, but it would just stick to the road rash and probably hurt worse.” Her face is very close to his but she tries to ignore that fact as she finishes cleaning off his knees.
“I don’t care about skinned knees,” he grumbles, batting her hand away. “But I rolled my ankle on my way down. I don’t think there’s any amount of you taking your clothes off that’s going to fix that.”
“Tape might help,” she offers. “For the ankle, I mean.” He doesn’t answer, still glowering at life in general, but he doesn’t say no or snap at her.
She’s got his shoe and sock off and has just started wrapping the cloth tape around his ankle when he speaks up. “You’re wasting your valuable time.” His voice is a little rough and Brienne worries he might be getting dehydrated.
She looks up into his face to ask if he needs the rest of her emergency water but he avoids her eyes and the words die on her tongue. She stumbles to find different ones. “It’s fine. You’re going to finish this race if it kills me,” she tries to joke, and his face goes strangely pained in a way it wasn’t when she cleaned up his road rash. “I was ahead of pace anyway from avoiding talking to people earlier,” she adds quietly. “Plus some jackass at mile three told me I was going too slow and I couldn’t let him be right.”
That gets her what she thinks might be just the hint of a smirk.
“Let’s get you back on your feet.” She pulls his arm across her shoulders, only belatedly remembering that her tank top is still laying on the ground, now spotted with blood. She reaches for it with her free hand, if for no other reason than to distract herself from how close she’s pulled Jaime and exactly how much of their skin is in direct contact now.
It’s an effort but she gets him upright, her quads objecting loudly. With one arm tightly around Brienne’s shoulders, he tests his weight on the bad ankle and winces, but takes a full step on it anyway. She keeps her arm wrapped around his waist, ready to catch him if he needs it.
They slowly work back up to their previous pace, with Brienne taking a significant portion of his weight while he readjusts. Jaime’s face is tight but his steps are almost entirely even. He’s clearly in pain, and honestly Brienne is still feeling unsettled by the attack, but they’re getting back into a rhythm. A few minutes later he breaks the silence. “Thanks, Tech,” he grunts, his mouth closer to her ear than she’d expected.
“‘Welcome,” she returns, feeling somehow uncomfortable with his gratitude, terse though it may be. Their footsteps balance out-- her legs are a little longer than his so it’s still a bit awkward with her shortening her stride to match his, but they’re making forward progress.
Her tape job seems to be helping, and over the next mile or two Jaime is able to take more and more of his own weight. It’s not going to be a pretty race, but Brienne feels fairly confident he’ll make it, even if she’s oddly reluctant to relinquish her hold on him.
After taking his first few independent steps he speaks up again. “Hey Tech?”
“Hm?” Two miles of assistance has taken more out of her than she thought, and she’s not at all sure she wants to deal with more conversation. Her thoughts are muddled, and not just by depleted glucose resources.
“How come you didn’t offer to carry me?”
She makes a face at him but doesn’t dignify the question with a response. At least now she knows he’s going to be fine.
“I bet you could. You’re strong enough.”
She goes back to ignoring him, feeling the warmth in her cheeks on top of the exercise-induced flush, and questioning her decision to stay with him.
“I hate everything.”
Brienne agrees, but she’ll be damned if she tells him. “There’s a reason they call this segment The Wall,” she gets out through gritted teeth. Technically the name came from the fact that Long Night reenactors often used the wooded park for their festivities, but it was also known to be where most marathon runners start to wonder if they’re going to make it out of the experience alive.
Jaime doesn’t even bother trying to form words, just whimpers a little.
By mile 20 they’re both feeling it. Brienne’s playlist isn’t helping.
gonna make you wonder why you even try
She looks over at him as another groan escapes his lungs. “What are you doing?”
“Dying,” he pants. “Leave me alone.”
“We just have a 10k left,” she tries, but finds herself unable to work up much enthusiasm.
She glances at him again briefly, then peers at his face more closely. “Are you crying, Jaime?”
“Am I?” He rubs his wrist against his cheek. “Maybe it’s just face sweat?”
She looks down at the slightly-bloody tank top she’s been clutching in one hand for the last few miles, then pulls her last emergency water bottle from her belt and uses it to soak the fabric. He takes it from her gratefully when she offers it, wiping it down his face before laying it across the back of his neck with a sigh.
Too soon, Jaime seems to be getting a second (third?) wind. After the mile 21 water station he looks positively perky and it irritates Brienne to no end, especially given that she should get credit for at least two of his miles. Still, she’ll be damned if she’s the one slowing him down. “Go on ahead,” she gets out through gritted teeth. “I don’t want to hold you back.”
“You’ll be okay?” he asks, peering over at her.
Probably not. “Sure.”
“I’ll owe you one.”
“One of us needs to beat 4:45. If you pull it off, consider the debt paid.” His accomplishment wouldn’t be the same as if she’d done it herself, but she could take some responsibility for getting him back on his feet anyway. And at least she wouldn’t have to listen to him talk-- or think about how she feels about spending all this extra time with him-- for the last five miles. “I’ll be fine. You can tell me all about it at work on Monday.” She grunts as her foot lands slightly wrong, but recovers quickly. The last thing she needs is him staying with her out of pity.
He continues to stare at her for another dozen paces or so. “Just go, Jaime.”
He blinks, looks as if he’s about to say something, but gives up. With a nod he picks up his pace and moments later he has disappeared around the next bend in the winding path.
It’s not so much that running gets any easier, but she does get used to this particular flavor of struggle surprisingly quickly. It’s lonely, she realizes, and there’s a strong part of her brain that’s already starting up the self-pitying procedures for her solo finish. It’s silly of her, she knows, since her original plan was to cross the finish line alone. But then Jaime showed up and offered to celebrate together….
Brienne huffs a breath out through her nose and redoubles her efforts to focus. In two three, out two. I can and I will. She lets her relentlessly uptempo playlist prop up her flagging enthusiasm.
Can you take me?
Into days I never knew
Let’s start a riot
Let’s start a riot me and you, ‘cause a riot’s overdue….
Fifteen minutes later Brienne is plodding away, her pace steady if a bit zombie-like. The woods are at their thickest here, long branches arching over the path. She’s nearly to the famous Weirwood region of the course when a movement in the trees catches her eye. Her heart rate immediately skyrockets, even though it’s probably just a squirrel, and for a moment she hopes maybe her body can use the flight part of fight-or-flight to her advantage for a quick burst of speed.
Then three men stumble out of the trees a few meters in front of her, all wearing fake-fur ear-flap hats with bear ears on top. One has a baseball bat. None of them have shirts. They’re eyeing her and not backing down as she approaches.
Fight it is then.
When Brienne did training runs out in the hills, or even when she ran early in the morning or late at night, she always carried a small can of mace in her running belt. Women on runners’ forums were always talking about the tiny, vicious (and invariably pink) knives they refused to leave home without, or how best to hold your keys between your knuckles. Of course the only time Brienne actually could have used a deterrent, she’d left it at home as unnecessary weight.
“What’s this then?”
She can smell the cheap beer on them the closer she gets. “You missed the salmon,” she tells them, trying to affect Jaime’s casual confidence. “They came past miles ago. Went thattaway.” She glances behind to see if any other runners are nearby, then makes to dodge around the men but they spread out across the path.
“Gotta pay a toll to get through the Godswood today,” the middle-sized one says, leering as she comes to a reluctant stop in front of them. For a moment she considers trying to dodge around, maybe take them by surprise, but in her exhausted state she doesn’t think she’d get very far.
“I’ve got fruit punch electrolyte chews if you want one,” she offers dryly.
The spokesman (spokesbear?) rolls his eyes. “You got any tits under there?” He jerks his chin toward her sports bra.
Her legs are starting to freeze up, from standing still too much or from her steadily mounting fear. She should say something intimidating. Show them she’s not scared. But she is scared and even without having run over twenty miles she’s not the fastest thinker. She clenches her jaw and her fists, her shoulders going rigid. She’d been really into kickboxing classes a few years back but she’s never been in an actual fight. There’s a first time for everything, she thinks grimly.
“She’s too much work and not enough reward,” the smallest of the men whines. “Just let her past and we’ll wait for one of those hot chicks in a sparkly tutu.”
Brienne’s mind flashes to Pia proudly showing her the skirt she’d made herself and suddenly she sees red. Before she can process a coherent thought she’s swinging a fist at the smallest one’s head, just barely dodging past the big one’s arcing bat. It grazes her collarbone and she grunts-- she’ll have a bruise tomorrow, but a centimeter closer and he’d have broken the bone. The medium one takes advantage of the distraction to rush her, and she stumbles but manages to stay on her feet. The problem is she’s lost her momentum and the big one has his bat raised, taking a step closer--
When he suddenly lurches forward with a startled yelp, his bat flying into the bushes. Brienne manages to get out of his path just in time, and just before he hits the ground she sees a flash of shiny red.
He’s rubbing his shoulder where he’d rammed it into the big Bear’s spine as he turns to face her attackers. “For the last time, it’s Jaime. Get behind me.”
She bristles at his tone. “I will not,” she replies, sounding petulant even to her own ears, but she also resists when he tries to sweep her back behind him with one hand. They stand side by side as the three Bears regroup. Brienne is panting, nearly shaking with adrenaline. Her legs feel like they’re made of solid rock, and like they might fall out from under her at any moment. She focuses on glaring down the frat boys, hoping they’ll back down before she has to actually attempt to fight any more.
“Listen, boys,” Jaime begins. He’s smirking, but not in the… well, the nice way that she’s used to seeing. “I know your tiny minds probably stopped at three is more than two but trust me when I tell you you’re outnumbered here.”
“She took a swing at Bart!” the medium one argues. “The bitch--”
If she’d had any idea it was about to happen she might have been able to hold Jaime back. As it is, he’s a blur of red and gold beside her and his fist contacts the middle Bear’s jaw before she even knows what’s happening. The crunching sound is satisfying, and he’s knocked back into his two companions.
“Her name is Brienne.” Jaime is shaking his hand out, the knuckles already purpling. “Now. Are you going to return to fraternity row on your own or do we need to incapacitate you and leave you for race security?” The three of them exchange dubious glances. “My colleague here can do quite a lot of damage when there are noses that need breaking,” he adds, throwing a grin back at Brienne. He knows damn well that she hadn’t meant to elbow him in the face that time, and that it was entirely his fault for sneaking up behind her while she was hunched over a microscope counting cells.
But she also realizes that the bears don’t need to know that most of the injuries she’s inflicted have been accidental. She tries to look intimidating-- though honestly she figures her red, sweaty, grunting-and-plodding mile-22 self would be scary enough on its own-- and takes a menacing half step toward them before they crack, scattering in a flurry of brown faux fur and high-pitched shrieking.
Jaime watches them leave, flexing the knuckles of his right hand. Brienne steps up beside him, keeping her eyes on the path as well. After a moment she can tell he’s turned to look at her and it makes her neck tingle. She rolls her shoulder a few times. It already aches a little where she didn’t get out of the bat’s way fast enough. She should thank Jaime for his help, but instead she blurts out, “You got your second wind. You must have been well into the weirwood grove. Why did you come back?”
“I hallucinated you.”
Her head snaps up and she stares at him. He stares back. He looks like maybe he hadn’t meant to say it, his face open and a little startled, his lips just slightly parted. As the moment stretches her hand twitches with the urge to reach for him.
“I think I need electrolytes,” he eventually adds.
She nods briefly, not trusting herself with words, and silently digs a gummy chew out of her belt for him. He pulls her tank top from around his neck and wipes his face with it, before returning it to its place of honor. With a monumental effort they both turn back down the path, groaning as they pick up their feet again, easing back into their running gaits on heavy, shaking legs.
For a few minutes she thinks they might have a quiet end to their race, that they’re both too exhausted and shaken up to talk anymore. Maybe that’s a good thing, she thinks, since it means she won’t be at risk of saying something ill-advised about being glad he’s back with her. At the same time, it would leave her alone with some very large feelings that are making themselves hard to avoid, and she isn’t wild about that idea either.
Jaime glances over and she desperately hopes her blush is camouflaged under the generic redness of her exercise-flushed skin. He elbows her with an almost shy little half-grin that makes her stomach do strange things. “It was amazing, Tech,” he says. “Hallucination-you, I mean. You had this flaming sword, and you were naked--”
She reaches over to lay a hand on his shoulder, as he’d done to her at the start of the race. “Let’s hurry up and get you to the medical tent,” she says, picking up her pace as much as she can stand to. But now the words naked and sword and Jaime are floating around her head in dangerous proximity.
She must be imagining the tingle in her hand. And just below her ribs where he’d elbowed her. Since when do they exchange casual touches like that? Is that a race-only thing for them, to be blamed on Marathon Brain and forgotten? She finds herself hoping it’s not. Or at least wondering if maybe some not-so-casual touches might be in her future. Wondering if that’s an irrational thing to hope for.
The two remaining miles seems like so little compared to how far they’ve come, yet it also feels like forever. The course has finally exited the wooded part of the park, turning out onto city streets again, and Brienne is happy to leave all of that behind.
“What’s on the playlist?” Jaime asks, breathless but struggling for an off-handed tone.
She thinks he’s probably looking for anything to distract them, take their minds off their aching feet and exhausted bodies. It’s a good plan, actually, if they can manage it between panting breaths. “You’ll laugh.”
“Probably.” He shoots her a grin and the corners of her mouth pull up involuntarily in response.
“‘Almost There,’ okay?”
“Princess and the Frog, Tech?” He huffs what might be a chuckle or possibly a groan. “I would have taken you--” another gasping breath, “for a Mulan girl.”
She gets that a lot, when people aren’t assuming she’s into one of the magic-makeover stories like Cinderella.
“Then again,” he interrupts her thoughts, “a goofy irresponsible prince-- falling for a hard-working-- hypercompetent woman-- even though she’s a frog? I can see the appeal-- I suppose.” Breaths interrupt his sentence every couple of words but she’s impressed he gets the whole thing out. It’s certainly a more complex thought than she’s capable of at the moment.
“Let me guess:” she tries to match his tone, a bit less successfully than she’d like, “you’re Team Kuzko?”
“You wound me, Tech,” he pants. “Team Kronk-- forever and always. But my favorite-- is Beauty and the Beast.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised. Fairy tales.” She waves a hand vaguely instead of trying to verbalize the rest of the sentence. He looks at her quizzically but she’s busy trying to get oxygen into her lungs for a moment. “That wedding we passed-- after the bears-- in the Weirwood grove. You looked all-- mooshy.”
“I like weddings,” he practically pouts. Which is hard to do while breathing heavily through one’s mouth. “The trees are pretty. And traditional.”
“Seems like-- a bad day for a wedding-- to me. All these gross-- sweaty people running past, getting into-- all their pictures--?”
“You don’t think-- marathons can be romantic?”
“You do?” She doesn’t bother hiding her skepticism.
“Absolutely,” he replies immediately, an earnest note in his voice that brings her head up instinctively to meet his eyes. “With the right person,” he finishes faintly.
It’s too much. He’s not quite saying it and she’s not quite hearing it but whatever it is feels big and terrifying and exciting and hopeful and he’s still holding her gaze and he looks just as overwhelmed as she feels but it’s too much--
“Hey,” he’s the first to crack, breaking the moment as he pulls her tank top off his neck and holds it out to her. “Do you want-- your shirt back-- before we get-- to the finish line?” It’s visibly crusty with both blood and dried sweat.
She grimaces and pushes his hand back. “Ew, no, it’s yours now.”
“You sure?” He waves it toward her again.
She cringes away. “It will always be yours.”
Jaime groans as they pass the mile 26 marker. Brienne tells herself that if she were running at the WU track, she’d have less than a lap to go. Her playlist has been at its most relentlessly chipper for the last mile and a half, and she’s pretty sure it’s the only reason she’s even upright at this point.
Suddenly I see
This is what I wanna be
Suddenly I see
Why the hell it means so much to me
She’s going to make it, she realizes with a surge of elation that lifts her chest and somehow lightens her steps. She’s almost done. Glancing at her watch and utterly failing to do math in her exhaustion-addled brain she thinks she’s ahead of her ultimate no-way-she-could-manage-it goal time, but it’s close. And she absolutely does not trust her brain, which a few miles back had decided that 0.3 hours was 30 minutes while calculating her pace. But she just might…. No, focus on breathing. In two three, out two.
Jaime must have noticed her posture improve, because in between harsh panting breaths he chokes out, “Go.”
She can see the banners and balloons of the finish line. It’s a straight shot, four blocks down the Kingsroad. Jaime stumbles and barely catches himself.
“Go,” he says, more insistently. “Your time--”
In two three. “Your ankle?” she asks. Out two. In two three, out two.
“I’ll make it,” he pants. “Eventually.” Deep gasping breath in. “Shave the last,” gasp, “thirty seconds,” gasp, “off your time.” She still hesitates. She wasn’t kidding about getting him to the medical tent-- he looks ready to keel over at any second. “You want your PR? Go get it.”
So she does.
Brienne pours everything she has left into that four block sprint. She’s not even consciously moving her legs-- it feels more like she’s falling forward and only just barely catching herself with each stride.
It’s the longest four blocks of her life.
Just a little longer.
She’ll never make it.
Hardly anything at all.
Just keep it up.
She doesn’t take her eyes off the finish line until she’s flying beyond it, each slap of her feet on asphalt echoing in her ears, and she’s not sure she’s even capable of stopping. There are runners on both sides of the course hugging their cheering loved ones and taking victorious selfies but Brienne has two priorities:
First, the clock: 4:42:13
She skids to a halt and whips around, already feeling her legs seize up. Someone hands her a silver space blanket and she takes it without looking at them, wrapping it around her shoulders as she starts to shake with cold and endorphins. Where is he? Did he fall? Would someone help him up? She should have stayed with him. Would they let her go back and--
A messy golden bun resolves itself out of the blur that is Brienne’s distance vision, followed by an obnoxiously shiny red tank top. He is visibly limping, but still moving forward in a steady if asymmetrical rhythm. The numbers on the finish clock are ticking upward too fast, but he’s almost there. She can tell when he sees her waiting for him because the smile that spreads across his face is like the sun. She cups her hands around her mouth and bellows something, probably unintelligible and definitely unsexy but hopefully encouraging, and she sees him dig deep for one last push, never taking his eyes off her. The next thing she knows he’s pitching forward, falling across the finish line--
--and directly into her arms. They’re laughing, or possibly crying, or possibly both, and he’s burying his face between her neck and shoulder as she uses the last of his momentum to lift him off his feet and swing him around a full 360 degrees. The finish clock is a blur as she spins, but she can just make it out.
She meant to shout “You did it! Congratulations!” into his ear. She’s sure of it. Instead, before the words can travel the miles from her brain to her mouth she realizes her lips are already occupied. With Jaime’s. Jaime’s lips. Lips of Jaime.
Slowly her mind catches up, hampered by her complete focus on where their mouths meet and-- oh, yes, tongues as well. Her awareness slowly radiates outward from that point of contact. He’s clinging to her, arms around her neck, and she’s-- oh gods, she’s actually dipping him backwards, clutching his body against her own. They’re panting and sweating and in pain and honestly disgusting but it’s clear from his arm clutching at her shoulders and his hand in her hair that neither of them has any desire to stop what they’re doing.
Jaime moans, deep in the back of his throat, and it’s only when Brienne realizes that she doesn’t actually know if it’s from ardor or discomfort that she straightens, easing Jaime’s weight back onto his own feet. His knees buckle a little but she’s still got her arms around him so he can’t fall far.
He grins, and she thinks a dopey expression has no business looking as hot as his does. “I’ve been trying to get you to do that for ages, Tech. I can’t believe a marathon is what it took.” She stares blankly at him for a moment. Maybe longer. Green eyes, her brain tells her helpfully. Sweaty and satisfied and of course pleased with himself. It’s a good look on him. He starts to shiver as his body readjusts its temperature regulation settings and she breaks their eye contact for only a moment to wrap her thin silver blanket around the both of them, trapping their body heat close to their skin. He goes up on his tiptoes to kiss her again.
A course official coughs lightly behind them to shoo them out of the finish area. It startles Brienne, but Jaime barely seems to register, still gazing adoringly up at her. She pulls away just enough so that they can walk-- hobble, shuffle, stumble on leaden legs-- the rest of the way through the official cool-down area. They both duck their heads to allow teenage volunteers to reach up and put sword-shaped finisher medals around their necks. They solemnly accept the requisite free bananas at the next table down the line, electric-blue sports drink at the last one.
And then the marathon is over.
Brienne suddenly feels overwhelmed by everything that’s happened in the last five hours of her life. Obviously finishing a marathon is a huge achievement-- even Brienne is capable of taking pride in that-- and setting aside that she’s now been in two actual fights, she feels like a fundamental shift has taken place. It would be too much to say she’s a different person now than she was 26.2 miles ago, but covering those miles with Jaime at her side….
Even though the parking lot is slowly filling up with other finishers, she’s only dimly aware of them. As far as she’s concerned, it’s just the two of them. And she realizes how much she likes that thought. She tucks the space blanket more closely around them and he nuzzles against her shoulder.
“So does this make us official?” he murmurs, turning his face into her neck.
She drops a hand to the sword-shaped medallion. “Looks like it. How does it feel to be an official marathon finisher?”
“That’s not the official I meant, Brienne.”
She frees an arm from the blanket to peel her banana, stalling for time, trying to wrap her head around the idea of Jaime-- in general, but specifically the idea that he’s interested in (attracted to?) her. Chewing thoughtfully, she finds that her mind doesn’t automatically reject the thought. In fact, it’s rather unavoidably the most logical conclusion given the data she’s collected over the course of the race, particularly over the last ten minutes.
But more than that, Brienne finds that she wants to come to this conclusion, logical or otherwise.
“I suppose it does,” she murmurs wonderingly, half to herself, feeling a dazed smile spread across her face.
Her eyes focus, meeting his again, to find him utterly frozen. He’s not even blinking, his mouth half open, his eyes focused on… her banana.
She freezes mid-bite, and it takes him a moment to realize he’s been caught staring.
“So, about that hotel room,” he starts hoarsely, glancing up at the tall building closest to them. When he meets her eyes again it’s all she can do to stay on her feet, though she suspects that particular weakness has nothing to do with the twenty-six miles she just ran. “Did I mention the hot tub is on a private balcony?”
After the finish
Brienne may have forgotten to take a selfie at the finish line, but it turns out there were plenty of other cameras around. Photos of their dramatic kiss go viral within hours, though neither of them finds out until the next morning, having found several much better ways of occupying themselves than checking Instaraven.
When she does finally turn her phone back on it practically explodes with notifications, texts, and emails. Brienne is fairly sure her blush will be permanent after this. “Calm down, Tech,” Jaime admonishes her, pulling the pillow off her face to hand her a glass of wildly overpriced room service orange juice before crawling back into bed behind her. “Gods, you’d think they’d caught us fucking from the way you’re freaking out. Though speaking of which….”
She turns her phone back off and leaves it that way.
The next year photos of their kiss are used on all the advertising for the marathon. The finisher medal is even apparently supposed to be shaped like them, the golden metal man bent backwards at an angle Brienne doesn’t remember achieving.
Of course, it’s not the medal she’s thinking of when she crosses the finish line this year, thirty seconds before Jaime does because he broke into a panic-tinged all-out sprint for the last four blocks and she absolutely refused to let him get there first. She strides over the line, reaches into the extremely secure pocket she’d checked and rechecked the whole hour and a half she paced outside the hotel room he’d insisted on getting at the starting line so he could sleep late, and turns around.
She’s on one knee, ring in her hand, just as he crosses. She knows she’ll treasure the look on his face forever-- a beautiful mixture of astonishment, elation, and an indignation she doesn’t quite understand until he fumbles at his own belt and produces a ring of his own.
The kiss this time is awful-- they’re laughing and explaining and berating each other even while their mouths are supposed to be otherwise occupied-- and yet it’s still somehow even better than the first one.
The year after that they run wearing ridiculous matching tuxedo shirts and bowties. They stop for a brief ceremony at the Weirwood grove just past mile 21 and cross the finish line as husband and wife, hand in hand, with matching PRs.