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Just as Sweet (just as thorny)

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Jaime hasn't seen Brienne in about six months and seeing her here now, laughing in the middle of the dance floor with her friends, is like a punch in the gut.

He leans forward on the balustrade and ogles her unashamedly, nursing his drink while the loud music booms around him. He's lost his brother and the rest of their party when they got into the club and he's not bothered in the slightest by it. Jaime wasn't in the mood for partying and can't stand most of his brother's friends, but Tyrion insisted they had to, and it's his birthday after all.

"You've missed more than enough of them with your mysterious assignments, brother," Tyrion's said to him, the frown on his face belying the lighthearted tone. "You'll come tonight and you'll enjoy yourself."

Jaime's never been good at denying anything to his little brother, now he's glad for it.

Brienne looks so different here than the last time he saw her, young and wild and carefree, miles away from the prim and proper Executive Assistant who didn't know anything at all about her boss's dealings under the table or his fingers in many illegal pies.

It had been easy for Jaime to get a position in the company, to put all the education Tywin Lannister had paid for into his cover identity. It had been even easier to insinuate himself into Brienne's circle of friends, to use her kind nature to get closer to her and to his target. Brienne was Renly Baratheon's assistant friend and confidante, and Renly was the weakest link in the Baratheon clan.

Two years of prep work had gone into the assignment to get him into position and to make Jaime become someone else: Jay Hill, a nobody from the Westerlands with dark blond short hair shot with grey, a matching greying beard, and a bit of a lisp. Jay moved to Storm's End after a bad divorce that had left him heartbroken and strapped for cash, looking for a fresh start. He didn't have family or friends in the city, and was too self-conscious when approaching people so he was considered shy and boring.

A couple of accidental meetings at the cinema and at a gallery, Jaime on his own and looking a bit lost but putting on a brave face, had been enough to get Brienne to befriend him. It didn't take him long to determine that she was innocent, though she was the key to access everything.

For a whole year, Jaime played the part of Jay Hill, gathering intelligence on the Baratheons, finding the chinks in the wall surrounding the family's dealings. He planted traps and followed trails, spent sleepless nights combing through data stolen from Renly's and Brienne's computer, listened to conversations and finally found the key to lift the veneer of respectability and expose the filth underneath one of the oldest clans in Westeros. And saved a few hundred lives in the process.

Jaime also spent that year learning how to play video games with Brienne, both of them shouting abuse at the screen while they drank beer and snacked on pizza and unhealthy food to their heart's content. He trained with her in the gym, forcing his body to appear jerky and awkward and half as strong as he really was, improving slightly under her encouraging looks and words. Jaime had Brienne over to his half-empty bachelor pad where there were pictures of a dead family that wasn't his and a smiling ex-wife he never even met. He taught her how to make some Westerland's dishes and they even went on a weekend trip to Tarth together, where they played on the beach and ate crab and Jaime realized he had fucked up big time, his hands on Brienne's waist and his entire vision covered by her astonishing eyes as he closed the gap between their mouths.

That day he panicked and ran away, and if he'd known that was the last time they would be together, he would have kissed her to at least have that memory.

He'd gone and fallen for Brienne, for her blue eyes and her braying laugh and her unshakable kindness. It was a rookie mistake that jeopardized the mission and worse, it had hurt them both in the end.

Jaime was pulled from the mission and got the bollocking of a lifetime from Selmy, who was not happy when Jaime finally confessed he was compromised. He did his job, they took down the Baratheons though now the Stormland's underworld was in disarray, and then Jaime was recalled to King's Landing and his normal posting, not allowed to say goodbye to Brienne or explain.

Jay Hill was no more, vanishing as if he had never existed, nothing to prove he had but for a scribbled note Jaime should have known better than to leave behind.

For six months Jaime's tried to forget about Brienne, forget about her eyes and her smile and how she's been the first person to make him feel real. Except Jay Hill's not real, and Jaime knows he's not allowed to contact Brienne again.

He's come back to King's Landing as he was ordered to, back to a house that doesn't feel like his after so long and a family and friends who are so used to not having him around they don't even miss him anymore. He's shaved his beard and grown his golden hair back, he's removed the brown contacts and is getting used to Jaime Lannister being the person staring at him from the mirror in the mornings.

If he misses being Jay Hill, that's his own damned fault.

But now Brienne's in King's Landing, close enough he can just walk to her and touch her and look into her beautiful eyes. All Jaime can think about is how much he's missed her these past months and how much he wants to kiss her the way he thought about a million times back in Storm's End, the way he almost did in Tarth.

And Selmy is not here to stop him, is he?

Downing his glass of whiskey for courage, Jaime walks down to the dance floor.

Brienne's not in the mood for partying when Marg announces they're going out, has not been in the mood for many things for the past few months but Marg insists and since Brienne's still living with her until she can move into her own place in a couple of weeks, she can't say no. It takes her four margaritas to be happy to have come, but by that time Brienne is sloshed enough she's laughing in a way she can't remember doing in a long time.

She stumbles to her feet when a familiar song starts playing, Marg's friends sprawled in the booth they had reserved doing shots and resting their feet after the last bout of dancing. Marg's busy with her tongue down some guy's throat, but Arianne and Tyrenne stand up with Brienne, drunkenly following her to the dance floor. Brienne's not entirely steady on her heels but makes it to the dance floor without tripping or spilling her drink, and that's a triumph in itself. She laughs and starts moving with the girls, letting the music wash over her and transport her back to simpler times.

The last few months have been difficult. More than difficult, they've been horrible and Brienne's been very close to giving up and going back home to hide in her father's steady arms.

It isn't just losing her job and learning what Renly was involved in, what he made her an accomplice off, though that has been bad enough. She had trusted him, had even loved Renly at some point though she knew he didn't see her that way. She always believed he was a good person, spoiled and a bit shallow, but not evil. Shows what she knows, Brienne feels dirty to have been part of it, even unwittingly, feels like there aren't enough showers in the world to make her clean again. And she feels stupid because for five years all that was happening right under her nose, and she never realized because she allowed hat love to blind her.

She's been untouched by all of it, her name left out of the news and police reports in spite of her being so close to Renly, and Brienne's not so stupid not to know who she owes it to.

Jay Hill, if that's his name, which she doubts.

It's easy now to see his involvement, how he inserted himself in the perfect position to shadow Renly. It's too much of a coincidence that he vanished into thin air right after all had come to the light, the only things left in his empty house a note that said "I'm sorry" and some photographs that obviously weren't his.

It threw their closeness, their friendship, into sharp relief and made Brienne second guess every single interaction with Jay.

All the times they spent together, the touches, the looks, the intimacy, it was all a lie, of course he didn't get close to Brienne because he liked her, nobody does. She had, foolishly, believed Jay chose her because he was shy, because he had been mocked for his lisp and timid manner, and he knew she was safe. Jay was by no means unattractive, he just carried himself as if he was.

"Stop hunching," Brienne told him one day while they trained. He had a muscled and almost perfect body, and yet he walked around making himself smaller, never looked at people in the eye, and let the other guys walk all over him. "You're almost as tall as I am and possibly as strong, why do I wipe the floor with you every time?"

"Becauth you're better?" he said, eyes downcast and lisp pronounced the way it was when he was tired.

"Am I?" She questioned even as she took him to the mat again, the only man who didn't glare at her when she did, her heart pounding in her chest at his smile.

It wasn't real, she knows this now.

Jay isn't real and their time together, their friendship and whatever more Brienne believed they could have, was nothing but smoke and mirrors designed to get something from her.

Brienne registers the song change and the fact that she has stopped moving, wobbling in the middle of the dance floor with her thoughts for soundtrack. She needs another drink, it might be the only thing keeping the memories at bay.

She turns to Arianne to tell her she's going back to the booth and her expression gives her pause.

"Wow, hottie alert!" Arianne breathes out, eyes wide, jaw slack. Considering how pretty Arianne is, Brienne is curious to know who has elicited such a reaction.

Following her gaze, Brienne's faced with the most attractive man she's ever seen advancing towards them. He's almost as tall as Brienne, with broad shoulders and perfectly muscled arms showcased by a black wife-beater, washed-out jeans clinging to muscled thighs and slim hips. The most arresting thing is his face, though, a sharp clean jaw and high cheekbones, deep green eyes and golden hair curling over his ears. There's something predatory in the way he walks, as if he's stalking his prey. A willing one, if Arianne's and Tyrenne's looks at him are any indication.

Brienne's about to turn and go for that drink, it's not as if the man is looking for her, when he stops by her side. He looks her up and down, gives a jerky nod and takes a few steps back, clearly waiting for Brienne to walk to him. A push makes the decision for her, Brienne stumbles against him, strong hands holding her arms to stabilize her.

His hands are calloused and gentle where they hold her, and strangely familiar. It's ridiculous, she's never met a man this beautiful, she would remember.

Silently, he guides her until they're pressed together, swaying with the beat of the music. Brienne's a good dancer, she's always been good at physical activities and dance is no exception, and so is he. They move perfectly synchronized as if they've done the same thing before and their bodies know how they fit. Brienne can't take her eyes from his face, from his perfect features and bright green eyes, and he looks at her with a complicated expression before fixing his eyes somewhere on her throat, his own bobbing as he swallows.

He's probably realized her face doesn't match the promise of her body. She looks imposing with the short dress Marg forced on her and the high heels, her legs alone have been drawing looks all night, though by the time they get to her face most men have lost interest. She has no breasts to speak of and not even Marg's skill with a brush can disguise all her freckles and her too-big mouth and twice-broken nose.

Brienne's about to pull away, chalk this to the tequila and poor lightning, when the man looks at her face again.

He doesn't look disinterested, he looks determined. To what, she has no idea.

The man says something, a futile gesture with the noise around them unless he's a lot closer. Brienne shakes her head. He leans forward and up on his tiptoes, getting as close as possible to Brienne's ear and she instinctively takes a step back. A hurt look flashes across his features, so quick Brienne's not sure it's not a trick of the light, he takes a step back and tilts his head in the direction of the booths.

Most of them are occupied and the people there are not talking, Brienne can't imagine this beautiful man wants to take her to one for the same reason.

Why not? her inner Margaery protests, he's danced with you and you look amazing in that dress. Why wouldn't he want to be all over you?

If she wasn't half-drunk she wouldn't have gone with him, but she is. Still a bit fuzzy, Brienne follows him to a booth making sure she's in the line of sight of her friends. Arianne gives her a nod and a double thumbs up from the dance floor, elbowing Tyrenne until she turns to give Brienne an impressed look. Brienne's blushing as she sits down next to him, close enough she can feel his leg pressed against her thigh, can feel the heat emanating from him and smell his cologne or aftershave mixed with his own smell. It feels familiar, it makes Brienne think of Tarth and sitting next to Jay under the ruins of Evenfall the last day they were together, the day she thought he was going to kiss her.

She shakes that thought from her head, and leans closer, feeling awkward and inexperienced. Is she too close or not close enough? Is she supposed to say anything? Her name? What about his name? Are they going to introduce each other? There is something sordid, in her mind, about hooking up with someone whose name she doesn't know but she doesn't know how to articulate it. She opens her mouth to ask and frowns at his expression, why is he looking at her so intently? Why does he feel so familiar?

He leans closer and Brienne tenses. She might not be sober enough for this. Or maybe she's not drunk enough for this.

She holds herself steady like a statue and as yielding as one but he doesn't kiss her, his lips graze her ear and he speaks, raising goosebumps all over her arms.

"Brienne, I might lose my job for this but I needed to talk to you. I'm so sorry."

She pulls away from him, suddenly very sober. And very, very angry.

She knows that voice, she knows that smell and impossible as it is to believe, she knows this man. "Jay?"

Jaime shouldn't be doing this.

He's going to be fired or punched, more than likely both. It will be no less than he deserves, he's broken the one rule of his department and he was already on shaky ground with Selmy after the whole Baratheon operation fuckup. If this gets back to him, and he doesn't fool himself that it won't, Jaime's as good as out of a job and not even his family name can save him this time. At the very least he'll be reassigned to the fucking Wall unit, something Selmy has been threatening to do for years when Jaime becomes especially obnoxious.

He looks at Brienne, her blue eyes wide and filling with tears, her entire posture radiating hurt and shock and anger and he couldn't care less. If she forgives him and gives him another chance, Jaime will present his resignation himself.

"Jay?" Brienne asks, her voice lost in the din of the club but he's seen her mouth shape that name enough times he can hear her voice in his head, down to the break at the end.

He leans forward again. "Jaime, my name is Jaime."

That's when she punches him.

Brienne wakes up in the morning with a bear of a headache and big gaps in her memory from the night before. She looks around and pats herself and the panic recedes when she touches fabric, she's still wearing the previous night's dress though not the shoes, and there's a blanket draped over most of her legs. She isn't in her bed and it takes her a moment to recognize Marg's living room through the haze in her head.

Brienne's never been a great drinker, though she's too big and too heavy to be a lightweight, she must have really overdone it the previous night to not even make it to the bed. She groans and that summons Marg, who miraculously has not gone home with the guy she had hooked up with.

That's odd, Brienne could have sworn the whole point of the night out was for Marg to get laid.

"Take this," she says, giving her a pain killer and a bottle of water. Brienne takes it gratefully and downs the water, she closes her eyes and leans her head back on the couch, waiting for the pounding in her temples to ease. She hears Marg puttering around in the kitchen, a calming and familiar sound, and must have dozed off because when she smells coffee and fully wakes up, her headache is gone and her memory is back.

She's not sure this is an improvement.

Brienne takes a deep breath and looks at her right hand, at the reddened skin around her knuckles. She presses a finger against it and feels how tender and sore it is. She can still feel the moment of impact, how Jay--Jaime, he said his name was Jaime--didn't try to deflect or counter the blow. He looked at Brienne and let it happen, and it only made her angrier. She had gone back to the booth and proceeded to drink herself blind the rest of the night, Marg must have taken her home after Brienne all but passed out in the booth.

"Are you feeling better?" Marg comes in with two mugs of coffee and a plate filled with toast and bacon and all the things that make hangover morning better. Now that she looks at her, Brienne can see shadows under her eyes and concern in them, the remnants of the previous night's makeup still on her skin. She must have been taking care of Brienne if sh's skipped her usual nightly skin routine.

"I'm sorry I messed up your night," Brienne says, pilling bacon on a piece of bread and almost moaning at the first bite.

"You didn't," she says, calmly drinking her coffee. "You probably saved me some disappointment. If Bret fucked the way he kissed I'm glad I didn't go home with him." Brienne snorts, she knows Marg is saying it for her benefit. Of course. Also, she doesn't lack for male companionship whenever she wants. Not Margaery Tyrell, who is as beautiful as a rose and hides as many thorns as one.

"Still, it probably wasn't easy to move me when I was so drunk."

"I didn't," Marg says, finally letting all her concern and softness slip from her expression, replaced by a sharp curiosity. "That hunk you decked did." Brienne feels ice licking down her spine and she straightens, looking again at her hand to avoid Marg's too knowing eyes. "He also gave me something for you."

She stands and goes to rummage in the little clutch she had been carrying the night before, when she comes back she passes a note to Brienne. She immediately recognizes the handwriting, it's the same as the little note she brought with her all the way from the Stormlands, the same as the many other notes Jay used to leave her in the office or in her house. He was always scribbling on something, Brienne remembers, and the slant of his s and t is quite characteristic. 'Please call me, I'll explain everything.' followed by a phone number.

Brienne crumples the note in her hand.

Jaime's not really expecting the phone call, not after a whole week has gone by without hearing from Brienne.

Maybe it's better this way; he can keep his job as long as Selmy doesn't learn about his slip up, he's very lucky nothing worse than a bruised jaw came out of his foolishness.

He knows better than to expose himself like that, what was he thinking? Well, that one is easy. He was thinking that Brienne was there, in the flesh, after having plagued his thoughts, both awake and asleep, for months. And Selmy wasn't.

Of course, he forgot the main thing, that Brienne didn't know or care about Jaime Lannister. Brienne cared about Jay Hill, and Jay used her and abused her trust. She has few reasons to trust Jay and even fewer to trust or care for Jaime.

He's repeated this plenty of times for the past week while darting looks at his mobile, willing it to ring. It doesn't, not until the day Jaime is sorting through all the files received on the Church of the Flaming Heart, the latest threat coming from Essos. They call themselves a religious organization, the Kingsguard has them marked as a terrorist one, and the few cells that have sprouted mainly in the Stormlands and King's Landing support that theory. Part of the data has come from the Baratheon operation, Stannis Baratheon had been involved with the Church, though how much with their less public side remains to be seen. Jaime has been tasked with finding out as much as possible about them before they become a real threat, and he would consider it a punishment, a way to keep him tied to a desk for a couple of months, except the information he's got says they already are a threat and he's been tasked with disabling it because he's the best they got.

At least this one is not an undercover operation, he's not ready to leave himself behind again so soon.

He's so focused on the notes in front of him, teasing out a connection between some transactions made by Selyse Baratheon and the Church, he barely notices when his mobile starts vibrating on his desk. Mobile's in silent, of course, it's not worth the lecture from Hightower when someone forgets.

"Lannister," he picks it up without looking at the screen.

There is silence on the other end of the line, the kind that usually precedes a click and a recording pretending not to be one. Annoyed, he's about to hang up when she speaks. "Jaime?"

He forgets what he was doing at the sound of Brienne's voice. "Brienne."

She takes another moment before she continues, a gesture so painfully her that leaves Jaime breathless. She always thinks before she speaks. "I think I can listen to your explanation without punching you again now," she says, her words have the cadence of a much-rehearsed speech, flat and expressionless and possibly hiding a world of emotion underneath. "Be in Eastwatch by the Mud Gate this evening at 7 or don't contact me ever again."

She hangs up before Jaime can get a word in edgewise, though the only word that would have come was yes. Of course he's going to be there, he needs to cancel his dinner plans with Tyrion but his brother will understand, and he also has to figure out what he's going to say to Brienne.

He looks at the files and notes in his hands and closes the notebook and shuts down the computer. He's not going to get any more work done right now. "I'm going for lunch," he tells Hightower on the way out and gets a nod in return.

Outside the sun is shining, warm and smelling of spring already, and there are people moving in every direction around headquarters. He walks towards Baelor Park, letting the noise and bustle of people around him fade into the background, ignoring the looks he receives as he stalks among the shoppers and office workers.

What is he going to tell Brienne? That is the question he needs answering right now. Nothing, should be the answer. The Kingsguard is the most secretive organization in Westeros, the last line of defence, the moment it comes out what he's done he'll be lucky if sending him to the Wall is all they do.

He can still see the confusion and disappointment on Brienne's face that day on Tarth's beach when Jaime pulled back right before kissing her. But there had been no surprise on her expression, just a bleak kind of resignation which had infected the silence between them on their way back to Storm's End. He can also see the hurt and anger on her face in that club right before she hit him. And the tears she had not let fall.

Everything, Jaime knows he's going to tell her everything consequences be damned.

Brienne hadn't dreamed how absurdly attractive Jaime is.

She's already sitting in a secluded booth in Eastwatch when she sees him enter the bar, scanning the tables until his eyes fall on her, some tightness in his eyes and shoulders easing when he sees her.

He's even more attractive during the day, with the last rays of the sun filtering through the window and painting his golden hair with fire, his shaved jaw sharp and his green eyes even sharper. She tries to see something of Jay in the way he walks to her, but his posture and his strut are way different from Jay's. This is a man who knows how much space he takes up and owns it, he looks people in the eye and keeps his spine straight and his chin up. Jay hunched, made himself smaller, never looked anyone in the eye if he could avoid it. Jaime stalks like a predator while Jay scurried like prey.

If he had not come out and told her, Brienne wouldn't have thought they were the same person. She still can't understand why he did it, he got away with the lies, why risk anything now.

"Brienne," he says when he reaches the booth, taking the seat opposite her and signalling the waitress, who's immediately by his side. Brienne has been trying to catch her attention for the past five minutes and has been ignored. He orders for the both of them, checking with Brienne if she still drinks the same brand of beer, the fact that he remembers it catching her by surprise. "Thank you for agreeing to meet me." The voice is the same, it sends a shiver down her spine.

"Don't," she says, though she's not sure what he shouldn't do. Talk? Thank her? Be here? Be however he is instead of Jay?

He closes his mouth with a short nod and they fall silent until their drinks arrive. She has a million questions to ask and doesn't know where to begin, feels conflicted just sitting here. This man is at the same time incredibly familiar and a stranger.

They take a drink from their beers, his eyes have not left her face for a moment since he sat down, Brienne tries to order her thoughts to get the first question.

"I owe you an explanation," he begins when the silence stretches past what can be considered comfortable. "What I was doing in Storm's End--"

"I'm not stupid, Jay--Jaime," Brienne bites out, frustrated to be tripped by the name. It's not an explanation she needs, Renly's family dealings, the illegal ones, have been plastered all over newspapers for months now and she has all the details she never knew when they were happening right under her nose. She knows they had to be stopped, and that Jay was doing his job. "I can take a wild guess that you are some kind of law enforcement and were doing your job, and whatever agency you belong to--"

"Kingsguard," he says, his voice barely over a whisper but it might have been shouted for the effect it has on her. "I'm in the Kingsguard." Brienne freezes, looking around wildly, as if she's expecting them to jump out of the shadows and blackbag her, make her disappear the way they are rumoured to. The Kingsguard is the most secret and elite organization in Westeros, sometimes operating beyond the scope of the law, always surrounded by mystery. They are an exception to every rule and law and he should not have told her that, she knows as much. Jaime chuckles a bit at her reaction, wry and humourless. "Don't worry, it's not you who's in for a world of trouble when they find I'm speaking to you."

When, not if, as if it's a foregone conclusion. She remembers what he said in the club, I might lose my job for this. He might lose a lot more than that. "Why are you doing this then? You got what you needed from me, what use can you have for me now?"

Jaime looks down at that, his hands clenched over his beer glass. "Would you believe me if I say that I missed you?" He asks, and he sounds sincere.

If Brienne closed her eyes she could believe it was Jay sitting in front of her, with his silvering beard and mousy hair and the hunched shoulders. But the man in front of her is not Jay, and he's a consummate actor to have fooled everyone for a whole year. "No."

He nods once, not looking up, as if that was what he expected. "You have no reason to trust me, but it's the truth. All the nights we spent together, all the things we did, that was me. It wasn't a cover, it wasn't for the job, it was me. I didn't lie about that, I was with you because I wanted to be there, because I enjoyed your company and the things we did together, because I fell--"

"No," Brienne repeats, forcefully this time, not letting Jaime finish that sentence in case it ends the way she suspects it will. "Don't."

"Alright," he says, and he drops his eyes to the table again. "Then you ask me any questions you have, I won't lie to you again."

This has been such a terrible idea. Brienne should stand from the booth and leave, never look back and forget about Jay or Jaime or whoever the hell he is. Put this whole thing behind her and move on. She can remember the last day they spent together, the visit to Tarth, how Jay had looked at her with soft eyes, how his hands had been gentle and warm. She has never been looked at that way, never with that kind of desire and affection, and the expression on Jaime's face mirrors that.

"When you picked up the phone before," she finally asks after a minute. "You answered saying Lannister, are you related to them?" He certainly has the look of a Lannister, blond and green-eyed, and the way he carries himself. It wouldn't be surprising if he belonged to the richest and most influential family in the realm, and the most ruthless as well.

"I am," he admits easily, though there is a wry twist to his mouth. "At least in blood. Jaime Lannister at your service."

She startles hearing the name spoken like that. She had the pieces but hadn't looked at the completed image and now feels silly. The scion of Lannister, the one whose life is a complete mystery and his skill at flying under the radar is legendary. She can understand why now. "You are--"

"Tywin's heir," he confirms with a mirthless chuckle, "though I'm not sure who hates that fact more, him or me."

"How did someone like you end in the Kingsguard?" she can't help but blurt out, that wasn't what she had been expecting. A Lannister, yes, but the heir?

"Don't let the tabloids fool you, we might be richer than the Gods but family can be a miserable affair regardless of where you come from." There are volumes written behind the pain in his eyes, Brienne remembers a night in her house when Jay was talking about his family, the same pain in his eyes she sees now. Then it had been for a dead family, or so she had believed. "I joined the military as an act of rebellion against my father when I finished my degree and was whisked into the Kingsguard barely out of training. The only one in my family I am in contact with is my brother, and he doesn't really know what I do."

"Your marriage?" she asks, wanting to steer away from that subject.

Jaime shakes his head. "Never been married, never wanted to and my profession doesn't lend itself to relationships." It wouldn't, not if they were not allowed to disclose their profession to their partners. The Kingsguard of old, the order of knights this one stems from, were forbidden to take wives or hold lands and the current one seems to uphold that tradition, whether is written in the rules or not. "I think all of us are single, or maybe some of my brothers in arms are together, but I don't ask. It was never an issue before."

"Why me?" she finally asks, the question that has been burning in her since the day Jay disappeared and she realized she'd been used and how. "Why did you choose me? Did I look so desperate for attention, so easy to fool? Is the slow seduction of the ugly woman always your way in?"

Jaime fiddles with his beer glass, the condensation almost gone, and finally takes a drink, his throat working as he swallows. "If you only believe one thing I say today," he finally says, looking at her, his expression serious. "Believe this one: I don't do seductions. I'm a Kingsguard, not a whore, and we are not whatever the slick spy movies let people believe. And I owe a mirror, I would have a lot more luck seducing anyone looking like myself than Jay Hill." It's a statement of a fact, not bragging or arrogance, and it's the truth. "We didn't choose you personally because you were Brienne, but because of your position in the company would allow me access to Renly's computer and data sooner than any other. I got that on the first week, I didn't need to stay by your side after that. I never needed to spend nights with you playing games or to let you kick my ass in the gym. I didn't need to cook for you or stay over at your house, and I definitely didn't need to fall for you." She flinches at that, at the way his eyes are unwavering and sincere and his voice rough. And still, she can't believe him though she wants to. "It hasn't made my life easier and got me pulled from the investigation I dedicated two years of my life, and chances are it's going to get me kicked out of the only place and only family I've known for fifteen years. And if given the chance, I would do all of that again because all those things we did together, all the time I was with you, they were the best thing to happen to me."

Brienne can't breathe by the end of his speech, can't do anything but clench her hands against the wood of the table trying to ground herself. She stands up abruptly and looks at his resigned expression. "I'm sorry, I can't," she says before she leaves the pub.

Jaime's unsurprised when she gets up and leaves him in the pub. Disappointed, but not surprised.

For a moment, he considers running after her and repeating all those things again, but what would be the purpose? She said she'd listen, she never promised to believe him, and she has the right not to. He finishes his beer staring, unseeing, at the place Brienne has vacated. She looks the same he remembers, a bit more tired and a lot warier, but again the solid and serious Brienne from the office instead of the wild thing from the club. He has really missed her, he hasn't lied at all.

He's about to leave the pub when his phone vibrates in his pocket.

"Lannister," he answers, not looking at the screen. Nobody calls him nowadays except for work or to try to sell him something.

"I don't know what you want from me." Jaime straightens in the booth at the voice, focusing on it and filtering everything else out. Brienne. "It can't be the same thing as before, I have barely started a new job in a tiny and boring company, they are probably not involved in any shady dealings. So what is it you want from me, Jaime? Is it forgiveness? Why did you reveal yourself to me?"

Jaime sighs, relieved she has called again, hasn't just stepped away from him and disappeared from his life. Forever this time. He would have respected her wishes, of course, if that's what she wants but it would have hurt more than the previous time. "I just want you, Brienne."

She scoffs, a burst of noise against in his ear. "I find that hard to believe, Jaime Lannister. You are rich and beautiful, you can have any woman you want, why would you want someone like me? Jay was none of those things, he could want me. I could believe he wanted me, though it was a lie."

"It wasn't a lie, Brienne," he insists. It wasn't, it was the only thing that was true during that whole year. "I want you."

"But why?" she asks, a pleading note in her voice. She can't understand why, and Jaime can't blame her. He remembers her confession one night after they downed two bottles of Arbor Gold, her voice slurred and her eyes unfocused, as they lay boneless and almost liquid on her comfortable couch. She had tripped over some of the words, pretended and bet and mocking me, but the image they had painted had been clear enough.

"You make me feel real," he finally says, remembering how he had smiled freely those nights as they fought for the last slice of pizza between bouts of gaming, or how she used to try to make him walk straighter and hit harder, Jaime burning with the desire to show her his real strength. He knows Brienne would have loved that, will enjoy sparring with him at full strength if they get as far as that. "I don't think you understand how rare that is for someone like me, for someone who does what I do." It's taken a toll, all that time spent in someone else's skin. This was meant to be the last time he did it. "Brienne, you need to understand that I am Jay, at least the Jay I showed to you. The darker hair and grey beard, the lisp and the contacts change what I look like, not who I am. I never pretended when we were alone." Not after the first few days, and by the last months he used to forget himself often enough that he could have gotten into trouble. "Unless you don't care for how I look now."

"Don't be ridiculous, you know what you look like," she snorts, derisive, as if the simple idea of someone not caring for his looks is stupid. "I cared for Jay but I don't know you, I don't know Jaime Lannister."

"Then get to know me, that's all I ask," he finally says, holding onto the hope that she wants to be convinced or she wouldn't have called again, wouldn't have listened to him. They had something, he knows that and so does she, and they can have it again if only she gives him a chance. "Give me the chance to show you I am the person you knew, and if you decide you don't like me, I'll leave you alone."

It takes Brienne so long to answer Jaime pulls the phone away from his ear to make sure the call hasn't dropped, his hands tight enough against the delicate casing he might bend it if she takes much longer. "Alright, but I'm moving flats next week so I won't have time to meet you until after."

Jaime is too elated by her agreeing to object on waiting another week, he's smiling wide and happy when they say goodbye and the call disconnects.

He has a date to plan.

Jaime makes a thousand plans for the perfect first date before he even leaves the pub that day.

There are so many possibilities and he has one advantage, he already knows what Brienne likes. He's got a whole year of shared experiences and confessions to draw from and a quick search on his mobile while the waitress brings him another beer and tries, unsuccessfully, to flirt with him, provide him with places and events and locations.

It takes him the time of his walk home to realize all of those are wrong.

He doesn't need to seduce Brienne, much less do it with the knowledge she unwittingly gave him, he needs to earn her trust. Needs to convince her of his sincerity, and that he has no idea how to do it. Jaime's been in the Kingsguard long enough secrecy and misdirection are second nature to him, one of the first lessons he learned training for undercover work is to share the bare minimum, easier to keep the lies straight when there are fewer of them, and the urge to hide the things that make him Jaime is too strong.

He's still thinking about that on his way to work on Tuesday morning, the sun peeking between the tall buildings that make up the business heart of Visenya's Hill, the rays glinting against the mirrored surface of their glass walls. He looks down at a particularly vicious reflection and sees, on the ground next to the door of a charity shop, a pile of books left there overnight. There's quite a few of them, a towering pile that looks like it will fall at the slightest gust of wind, and on top one of those bodice rippers that Brienne keeps scattered among history books and other novels in her eclectic bookshelf, hiding in plain sight. This is a particularly ornate one called His Sword in the Morning, a cover of what should be the legendary Arthur Dayne, if he had ever mistreated his clothing and his sword in such a way, with a petite lady of overflowing bosom clinging to his breeches. The cover matches the flowery language inside, something that Jaime knows because his mother used to read them, this one was a favourite of hers. Jaime read it when he was a teenager and obsessed about history and knights, read Joanna's entire collection blushing like the virgin he was during some parts.

He snaps a picture of the books, and makes a mental note to come to this place later to buy it for Brienne, and sends it to her before he can think better of it. Brienne said they couldn't meet, she never said anything about not sending her messages.

This, Jaime realizes once he's sitting at his desk with the first coffee of the morning, is what he can do until they see each other. Brienne needs not engage, she can just ignore the messages or ask him to stop, but Jaime can show himself like that to her, let her draw her own picture from them.

He already knows what the next messages to send will be when his colleagues arrive and he forces himself to clear his mind of Brienne and focus on his job. For a while at least.

Brienne's sweaty and dusty by the time her living room is unpacked, the suitcases inside her bedroom the next task to tackle.

She goes to the attached kitchen, gets a glass of water and surveys her work; her new flat's still looking pretty bare but a couple of photographs of her father and brother hanging on the walls and her bookshelf, still half empty but with the indispensable titles of her collection, are enough to give her a feeling of home.

It's a smaller flat than her old one in the Stormlands, but it's all she could afford in King's Landing, and she's lucky enough she can afford it on her own. King's Landing is stupidly expensive.

Her phone vibrates with a message on the table, and she casts a quick look at it, swallowing her disappointment that it's just Marg asking whether she's going out with them tonight. Brienne snaps a couple of pictures of the mess in the living room, of her assembled bookshelf and finally one of her exhausted and smudged face and sends them to Marg.

'Still not done 😔 😩 '

Margaery replies with a long line of emojis that make her smile and she goes to put the phone down and start on her bedroom. It vibrates again, and this time it's not Margaery. Brienne's heart thuds against her ribcage, hard enough she bets she would feel it if she pressed her hand against it.

She opens the message and it's a picture. Another one, she's getting to have quite the collection. Brienne bites her lip and scans the photograph for any clues, dropping on the couch and leaning back, all thoughts of her clothes forgotten. This time the photograph shows a castle, more ruin than anything else, against the dramatic backdrop of a sea so deep it's almost green. There is something terrible and majestic about the ruin, the white rocks strewn all over the cliff. The picture is grainy and tinted sepia, old and faded before it was digitized.

'Casterly Rock.' Brienne sends and is rewarded with an almost immediate answer of a gold star. She was right. She would not have guessed it before knowing Jaime was a Lannister, but now it's an easy one.

'The last year we went there before my brother was born. My father told us the family history, as if we couldn't find it in history books, and I only wanted to jump from the cliffs. I had a temper tantrum when they didn't let me, it was so hot. I must have been six or seven then.'

Brienne puts away that little tidbit of information along with all the other ones she's been collecting for the past few days.

It's been five days since they met in Eastwatch, five days since Brienne left him sitting there and ran away from the things he was saying. She'd walked around the old gate in the setting sun for a while before she called him, his words still echoing in her head, and asked the question she really needed the answer to.

It's somehow easier to believe his words if she doesn't see his face, if she can imagine the less perfect man.

Jaime starts sending her messages the day after. Brienne doesn't know what to make of them, Jaime sends her all manner of things: a photograph of some books he's seen on the way to work, an old movie poster, some song from twenty years ago that got stuck in her head for hours, a quote from a book, or just a picture of himself as a child or a teen, young and golden and impossibly beautiful.

Brienne realizes he's sharing pieces of himself, things he likes and his past and his favourite things, on the second day. There's never an explanation with the messages or a request that she replies. On the second day, she starts to send her guesses and he replies with either a gold star or a sad face, and a little story when she's right. Brienne's face breaks into a smile big enough Marg, who's helping her pack the last of her belongings, comments on it the first time he does.

Brienne has tried to slot the little details of Jaime's past alongside what she knows of Jay, but he had rarely shared anything from his past, even his cover story was never more than hints that discouraged people from prying further. What fits perfectly are the other bits, the pictures of silly things or the mentions of books she would recommend Jay, the excited emojis over a movie announcement or the picture of an old couple practising tai-chi with the sun setting behind them. The mundane things that make him who he is, be it Jay or Jaime.

On the third day, she starts sending him things in return and can almost picture the smile on his face. Almost, because the face that comes to mind is Jaime's, and she doesn't think she's seen him smile. But she wants to.

She still can't fully believe Jaime wants her, but she knows she has forgiven him for the hurt he caused while doing his job.

Brienne's spoken to her father, the head of police back in Tarth, has learned more about the Kingsguard from him. "It is not a trifle what he's done." Selwyn had been approached before he married, had been made the offer and looked at the small print and politely declined, after signing a full forest in NDA's. "I had already met your mother and knew she was it for me, so when given the choice between lying to her and accepting the job or just saying no, I chose her and never regretted it once in my life. Those men and women sign away their lives when they accept and if what you tell me is the truth, it seems this boy of yours has made his choice as well. Be careful, he's risking a lot more than his job and heart with this."

She still can't believe she's worth such a risk, but the way her stomach fills with butterflies at his texts and how sweaty her palms are when she replies means that she wants to.

Before she can think twice about it, Brienne sends him the same pictures she sent Marg, including the selfie, and waits for his reply with her heart hammering in her chest, wondering whether he's going to comment on her dirty and flushed face.

When the phone starts vibrating this time, it's not a message.

"Where's your copy of Keeper of the Oaths?" he asks, bypassing the greeting, voice soft and amused. "I thought you didn't go anywhere without it."

She closes her eyes and lets his voice wash over her, the night he spent gently teasing her about the book still fresh in her mind. He had called it an inaccurate portrayal of them, a wild romanticization of the events that did little justice to the historic characters it was based on and used the term throbbing too liberally. He'd had nothing to say when Brienne had asked how many times had he read it, before admitting it was her favourite trashy novel and she kept it always close at hand.

"It's in my bedroom, so I can read it tonight," she admits easily, and Jaime laughs loudly.

They chat about nothing for the next ten minutes until Brienne forces herself to move from the couch to finish unpacking her bedroom, her smile staying the entire time until she goes to bed.

Jaime is almost vibrating with nerves by the time Saturday rolls around.

He's been speaking and exchanging messages with Brienne for two weeks now, letting her see who he is in little glimpses of his past and receiving some in return. The first time Brienne replies to one of his messages Jaime grins like a fool for hours, so much so that Hightower comments on it, earning a narrowed eyed look from Selmy. Not even that's enough to dampen his spirits, not when Brienne starts sending her own pictures and clues the next day, always new things she never shared before.

Since then Jaime has started his own folder on the phone with the things she sends him, though his favourite by far is the picture of herself in her new house. Brienne's not pretty, and she doesn't look pretty in the picture. Her hair is plastered to her forehead with sweat and her skin is flushed with heat and effort, her crooked teeth obvious in her smile and all her freckles show in sharp relief. But her eyes spark with pride and draw attention to them, Jaime can stare at it for hours.

He might have done a few dozen times already, even earning a comment from his brother during dinner the previous night. He ignores it, the same as he ignores all his date ideas and goes with the simplest one.

He's waiting for Brienne outside Eastwatch, the same place they met in before. He's early, too eager to stay at home willing away the time and the walk from his place to here has taken less time than he expected. It's still ten minutes to the agreed time when Brienne appears, looking around quickly until her eyes fall on him. She's wearing tight jeans that cling to her shapely legs and a white shirt with a low cut and a matching thin foulard around her neck, her hair tousled and her face just wearing the slightest hint of makeup.

Jaime feels his mouth drying at the sight. The one in the night club with the short dress and legs for miles had been delicious, but it had been obvious to Jaime someone else had chosen those things for her. This one is the real Brienne and to him, she's a lot more attractive.

She smiles at him, a tiny curl of her mouth, and stops by his side. "Hi, Jaime."

"Brienne." They stare at each other for a moment, Jaime is not sure how to greet her beyond repeating her name like an idiot. What he wants to do, kiss her until her lips are red and swollen, is too soon for, and any other greeting feels either too distant or too close.

It seems she might be feeling the same, she bits her lips and looks down, a blush climbing up her throat.

Jaime sighs, he's a fucking Kingsguard not a teenager on his first date, he's braver than this, and leans forward to press a dry kiss to her cheek. Her blush deepens but her smile widens, so that was the right choice.

"Let's go," he says, offering his hand to her.

They walk past the gate to the new fish market that has sprouted around the old harbour, an expanse covered with stalls selling freshly caught fish and wine or beer, some tables overlooking the bay under a canopy of fairy lights. Brienne had mentioned during one of their conversations this past week the thing she misses most about Tarth is, apart from her father, the fresh fish their restaurants are famed for.

They find an empty table and Jaime gets them a bottle of Arbor gold and a selection of the best catch of the day. He's weighed down with it when he gets back to Brienne, who's looking at the bay with the last rays of sun reflecting on her eyes.

"I didn't know they had this kind of place in King's Landing," she says, helping him with everything. They clink their glasses together, plastic, because obviously Jaime is a classy date, and drink.

They talk while they eat and drink, Brienne knows better than to ask about his job, and tells little about hers except that she's still learning, though it's obvious she doesn't much care for her new position. "It pays the bills, not everyone can be tasked with saving the world."

Jaime doesn't know what has effected the change, but Brienne seems to have forgiven him for the necessary lies, and though she never asks about it, he can tell she's curious about what he does.

"How did you end up doing your job?" Jaime asks, something they have never discussed before.

"Same as you did end up in yours, rebellion," she looks out to the bay at that, in the direction of Tarth though there is no way they can see it from here. "My father is the head of Tarth's police force, it was understood I would follow in his footsteps and I was mostly trained for it. He had this one girlfriend when I was in my teens, she used to say of course I would be a cop, I was too big and coarse for delicate jobs. I enrolled in the first secretary course as a fuck you to her."

It's clearly something she regrets, so Jaime doesn't push, changing the subject instead.

They drink and eat and chat until the breeze from the harbour turns chilly and the people around them leave and the stalls close, the little fairy lights hanging over their heads the only spot of light apart from the moon, which hangs big and almost full high in the night sky.

They're both slightly tipsy by the time their wine runs out and it's time to leave, but the place is beautiful and so is Brienne, and Jaime does the thing he's wanted to for a long time. He leans forward and presses his lips against Brienne's, it's soft and almost chaste, her lips taste of the sweet wine. She opens them on a surprised exhale and darts her tongue to lick at Jaime's, the only place they're touching their lips.

It's over too soon, Jaime leans back and looks at her. Brienne is staring wide-eyed and flushed, and Jaime smiles at her. "I think it's time for us to go." Her smile fades and she looks down. "I would love to keep kissing you, but we're both a bit drunk and if we keep going I won't be able to keep my hands to myself."

He knows Brienne's not had easy experiences with men, that she's never been with one beyond a few kisses, and as much as he wants her, he can go slow.

"You're right, it's late," she agrees, though the smile he gives him is wobbly and doesn't quite reach her eyes.

Jaime kisses her again until that expression is gone from her face before they leave, hands clasped over his own thighs hard to keep from going too far. It's only the first date, after all.

There will be other dates, and he intends to kiss Brienne in every single one of them.

The gym Jaime takes Brienne to is small and out of the way, in an alleyway off the Street of Steel as it goes down from Baelor's park, there is no obvious sign outside, and Brienne would have not suspected it to be a gym, or even the entrance to anything, had Jaime not moved so confidently past the door. Once inside, though, she sees a state of the art gymnasium with everything she could expect and more, several training mats and weights and machines and even two rings on one side of the room, which is big and spacious.

It's not very full, not that she had expected many people to hit the gym on a Saturday afternoon, but the few who are training look like they know what they're doing.

This date, unconventional as it is, has been her idea, though Jaime agreed readily enough when she suggested it yesterday.

It's already been a month since they started talking again, three weeks since they had their first magical date by the harbour and Jaime kissed her for the first time. It had been sweet and soft and nothing like she would have imagined a man like Jaime would kiss.

It's the same on the second date, which is as magical as the first, though this time instead of romance Jaime goes for silliness and takes Brienne to a game arcade, both of them reliving their childhood among the noise of the machines and eating greasy food. They laugh there, and she's mesmerized by the way his eyes crinkle at the corner in mirth when he does that, by the curve of his lips and the arch of his neck where he throws his head back. She's the one to kiss him then, using all the courage she didn't know she had to press her lips against his, and is, for her troubles, pressed against the side of one of the machines and kissed in return though Jaime still keeps it soft and gentle.

Brienne wants more but has no idea how to ask for it.

She wonders if that's all the passion she arouses in him, careful and controlled and reminding her so much of things she would rather forget. She gets her answer on their third date when Jaime holds her against the wall outside the theatre after the performance, Brienne still laughing, and kisses her like he wants to devour her, one of his hands pressed against her cheek, the other clenched on her waist, his entire body flush against hers. He presses his forehead to hers as they pant, and rasps against her mouth "Gods, I want you," right before kissing her again until the theatre security guard clears his throat behind them and they have separate, Brienne blushing so hard she expects to spontaneously combust.

This finally erases almost all of Brienne's reservations, the memory of how Hyle and Ben had tried to fuck her for a bet, how Hyle had gone as far as to kiss her and even grope her during their one and only date. His kisses had been functional, wet and unpracticed and as bland as he was. His hands had flopped over her flat chest, searching and gripping with no finesse. They had been both inexperienced, Brienne more than Hyle, she had not felt anything then and had known he wasn't feeling anything beyond revulsion, his expression betraying him right before he revealed the truth.

Jaime's a good actor but he couldn't have faked the arousal pressed against Brienne or the way his eyes go so dark there's barely a ring of green in them, the roughness of his voice when he whispers her name against her lips.

Brienne has thought of little else since that night, wants for Jaime to kiss her again like that and not have to stop this time.

But first, there is one last thing she needs.

"You know I could not fight you at full strength then but I will now," Jaime warns her before entering the gym, and that is exactly what Brienne wants. "I won't go easy on you."

Even before, back in the Stormlands, she had thought he should be stronger than he appeared to be. She had been right, and now Brienne can really test herself against him.

"I can still put your ass on the mat, Lannister," she says and loves the way his eyes flash at that.

"We'll see."

They have the ring on the corner booked and by the time they come out of the changing rooms, there are a few people milling about, clearly waiting for the spar to begin. Jaime must be well known here to draw such an audience.

Brienne forces herself to ignore them, feeling self-conscious at their eyes on them, at least until they begin.

Jaime's good, more than, he's quick as a snake and confident in the way his body moves, and he is strong. And he's not holding back. Brienne manages to dodge the first attack by a hair's breadth, twisting under his arms at the last possible second and rolling on the mat to come out on the other side of him, she aims a high kick that he blocks easily, sweeping her legs from under her on the same beat. Brienne drops to the floor and looks at him with open-mouthed shock; she's strong, nobody has taken her down in under a minute before.

She waits for the jeers and mocking to begin, if not from Jaime from the spectators, but it doesn't happen.

"Come on, Brienne, you're not even trying. You're better than this." Jaime extends a hand to help her up and she clasps it, allowing him to. "Ignore the guys, this is just you and I."

He's right, she's better than that, and she can't afford to have her attention divided when facing him. Brienne takes a deep breath, shakes her limbs for a moment and then attacks without warning.

"Sneaky," Jaime laughs as he dodges it and counters with a kick to her midriff. Brienne blocks, though she feels the impact on her arms, and copies his previous move by sweeping his feet from under him. Jaime's eyebrows go up even as he jumps to evade her leg, his smile growing teeth. "I like it."

His voice is low and gravelly and it makes Brienne's gut clench and her skin prickle.

"I need all the advantages I can get." She approaches him head-on next, going for brute strength now, launching a barrage of hits he blocks, though not without effort. "You really were holding out on me." She can understand why, can't imagine mild-mannered Jay Hill fighting like this.

Brienne can barely see him anymore in her mind, his face replaced by Jaime's when she thinks of him.

They don't speak for the next minute, exchanging fast blows, Brienne can tell she's going to be sore and more than likely bruised tomorrow, but seeing Jaime like this, lithe and powerful in workout clothes and standing straight, eyes alight and smile feral, every single bruise will be worth it just for this. She's not surprised when she ends up on the mat once again, the more surprising thing is how long this bout has lasted.

Again Jaime extends his hand to help her, this time his touch lingers where they're clasped, his fingertips caressing softly the inside of her arms and raising goosebumps. Brienne bites her lips to keep herself from pulling on his arms and crushing her mouth against his here, in the middle of the ring.

"Again?" she asks, and Jaime nods eagerly.

He wins the next three bouts, each one lasting longer and costing him more to finish. Once she's got over the awkwardness of their audience and the shock and awe of his real skill, Brienne's done what she always does when she fights a new opponent: study them. There are many differences between Jaime's and Jay's fighting styles, mainly his speed and the way he doesn't pull his punches or leave himself open on the left side, which Brienne used to take as his weak spot, but there are many more similarities. He favours quick jabs and low kicks over the more showy high kicks, though when he goes for one of those they are devastatingly strong, and he's an expert at close contact takedowns.

Brienne learns to use her longer reach to keep him away after their third round, and comes close to taking him down on the fifth. They are both panting with effort, she can feel the sweat rolling down her spine and filming over her skin, and Jaime is not in much better condition, though where she's normally flushed and homely splotched, Jaime glows, his eyes more black than green and his lips reddened where he's been biting them for some time already.

She can tell their audience has grown, though by now she's completely filtered them out, no voice reaching her except for Jaime's.

"Last one?" Jaime asks, he's bent in half with his hands on his thighs resting for a moment.

"You tired already?" She teases him, though her breathless voice shows how exhausted she is as well. She doesn't know how long they've been at this but she's not going to last much longer.

"I want to preserve some energy for later," he says, and the look he gives her makes her entire body heat, leaving no doubt what he intends to do with it.

Thankfully she's already flushed with exertion, it won't be too visible.

Brienne gets up from the mat, limbers up feeling the drag in her muscles and the effort of each breath, this has to be a short bout then. She waits for him to attack and blocks the first two jabs, countering with a low kick and trying to keep out of his reach, they circle each other, no breath for more words now they are moving, their eyes locked on each other. Brienne feints to the left and Jaime takes the bait the way she knew he would do, going for an easy grab there. Brienne ducks under his arm and grabs it, twisting under it and coming up with enough force to throw Jaime over her shoulder, grimacing a bit at the sound of impact.

When she turns around Jaime is on his back on the mat, looking up at Brienne with a heated expression on his face and a wide smile. "I knew you could do it," he says, and she's rarely seen someone so happy to lose, much less to lose to her.

Brienne has never wanted to kiss anyone more in her entire life, she extends her hand to help him up the way he had been doing before, and only stops herself when the explosion of noise around them filters into her consciousness.

"Lannister," an authoritative voice says, and Jaime freezes, his hand still clasped with Brienne's. "Clearly the rules are something you think exist only for other people."

Brienne turns towards the voice, where a man with a silver head and stern eyes is looking at them, lips pressed in a disapproving line.

"Commander Selmy," he says, shoulders pulling back and head held high. He also puts himself between Selmy and Brienne, and doesn't let go of her hand.

Selmy turns around and disappears among the throng of people surrounding the ring, all of them excitedly talking among themselves how a woman just put Lannister to the mat. They follow him, even if he's not said anything there was a clear command in his gesture, the group parting around them as they go.

"Miss Tarth," Selmy begins once they are in the little office placed in one side of the gym, behind a closed door. "I assume you already know everything that you should not know."

"I do." There is no point in lying, not to this man.

He nods once and turns fully to Jaime, who is not looking even a bit contrite, the painful grip of his hand belying the calm of his expression. "I warned you about contacting Miss Tarth again."

"Yes," Jaime says in the same calm tone as his boss.

"You know the consequences, and yet you brought her to the one place you knew it was guaranteed would get back to me you were with her," Selmy continues.

Brienne turns shocked eyes on Jaime, realizing that all the audience they had attracted were probably his brethren in the Kingsguard. No wonder they were so interested in watching them fight.

"You would find out eventually, I refuse to start anything with that hanging over our heads." It's like watching two statues facing each other for all they give away of their feelings, though Jaime's hand clenches around Brienne's. "What is it going to be my punishment? Am I going to be posted to the Wall or do I need to resign?"

"What?" Brienne exclaims, shocked. The Wall? Like the punishment given to criminals back in the Targaryen era? "You can't do that!"

Selmy turns to her and for the first time his expression is readable. He looks amused at Brienne's outburst. "We're not so backwards anymore, Miss Tarth, he wouldn't be forced to take the Black. We do have a perpetually undermanned office in Deepwood Motte, which is not the backwards barbarian town Lannister would have you believe."

"It is," Jaime says under his breath, his entire posture has relaxed now that Selmy eyes are not on him.

"However, " Selmy continues, ignoring Jaime, "I think Lannister's luck will hold once again. You probably think I had you investigated before I even sent him to the Stormlands, Miss Tarth, but I didn't need to. Am I right to assume your father taught you everything he knows, even if you ended up not following through?"

"What?" Brienne repeats, shocked, and hears Jaime echoing her.

"The reason Kingsguard don't reveal their identities is to safeguard their families and loved ones, though not many of us ever marry civilians as they tend to be targeted by our enemies. We're not as inflexible as he believes, there is nothing in the rules forbidding relationships between members and when the relationship is serious, we have several civilian positions that allow us to bring partners of agents to the fold." Next to her, Jaime has gone still, so much so it feels like he's not even breathing. It's clear he had not known that. "Though I don't think that will be your case."

"You mean--"

"Consider this an offer of employment, Ms Tarth. You just took Lannister down a couple of pegs, something only one of his brothers is capable of doing and that's enough of a recommendation for me, even if I didn't know your father. You will have to undergo a whole year of training before you can be properly started as a field agent, or if you prefer there are administrative positions we always need filling. You will commit yourself to secrecy if you accept." He glares at Jaime. "And do it better than him."

She can't think past the noise in her head right now, doesn't know what to say to it. She doesn't care much for her new job, and has been just a couple of months there, so leaving wouldn't be a hardship. But becoming a Kingsguard? A field agent? It feels like the kind of thing that happens in action movies she always believed too farfetched. She can always accept a secretary position, does she want to? She wanted to become a policeman like her father when she was growing up, before she went against everything to spite a woman who had cared nothing for her and had lasted no more than his father's other girlfriends. Brienne's sometimes too stubborn for her own good, and once she had enrolled and paid for the course, she had committed herself to see it through to the end. Even if it didn't make her happy.

Will this make her happy?

"You don't need to say anything now, think about it, Miss Tarth and give me an answer on Monday," Selmy says, breaking the silence and Brienne out of her thoughts. "Lannister, you have the luck of the Stranger that I can't pull you off your current case, or I would lend you to KLPD to man the traffic for a whole year." He goes to the door and opens it, outside the most elite force of spies in the realm are doing a terrible job at looking uninterested. Selmy looks back at Brienne and finally smiles. "Tell Selwyn he owes me a bottle of the rye from Lys."

Jaime gets chewed out by Selmy the moment he steps onto the office on Monday but he doesn't care about that at all.

He can't care when it seems he's gotten away with breaking the rules and he's kissed Brienne good morning before coming to work, her hair a complete mess and her long legs poking under Jaime's favourite blue shirt, a mug of tea in her hands. It's a scene straight out of a romcom, and Jaime doesn't even mind he's become a cliche, can't get the smile off his face either.

That it pisses off Selmy even more it's just a bonus.

He also can't focus at all in what he's doing, something dangerous considering his line of work, his eyes snapping to the door every time it opens and hoping to see Brienne come in. In her own clothes this time, or he'll be even more distracted.

Jaime still doesn't have any idea whether she intends to accept Selmy's surprising offer, or what position will she chose if she does, they've made a point of not talking about it the entire time they were together after they left the gym and went together to his flat.

Jaime had been surprised when Brienne asked to go home with him, but there was no way he'd say no to that.

That's not to say they haven't spoken at all during the weekend, they have. There are still many things that need saying between the two of them, things that can't be conveyed with just a picture or a quote from a book. There's Jaime's family, the toxic mess of it, which will require many more weekends to be fully explained to anyone not born in it, and Brienne's father who apparently is more than either of them knew.

They've also played games the way they used to do in Brienne's house in the Stormlands, both of them on the couch with a pizza between them and shouting at the screen, only this time Jaime gets to kiss Brienne and put his mouth between her long legs when the game's over, hear a different kind of screaming coming from her. He also gets to sleep in the same bed as her and laugh at her snuffling snores as she falls asleep, and kiss her slack mouth, morning breath and all, when they are not even fully awake.

"Is it all forgiven, then?" Jaime asks in the dark of night, their bodies entwined on the bed, Brienne's skin still sheened with swear after their exertion. He had thought before it might be but needs to hear it from her.

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't," Brienne mumbles, softly, words dragging with sleep, eyes not even open.

"Will you stay?" As if she wasn't already mostly asleep on his bed.

"For as long as you have me." It will be a long time, then.

It's the first night she stays, and Jaime's been unable to give her even an inch of space between their bodies in spite of the heat, fearful that she might leave once he's asleep after all.

She's there still when he wakes up and Jaime has to show her how grateful he is for that.

She also stays the entire Sunday, making just some noises of protests about clean clothes until Jaime presents her with one of his shirts and demonstrates why underwear is not necessary around the house. It's one of the best days Jaime can remember, and he won't be able to stand in his shower again without thinking about Brienne pressed against the glass, skin slick with water while Jaime kisses her everywhere.

They try to cook together, the way they used to in the Stormlands, but get distracted easily and end up burning the food, much to Brienne's chagrin, and have to order takeout again. Again they sleep entwined, Jaime could get used to this, to go to sleep with the taste of Brienne on his tongue and her body pressed against him.

He wants to have that every day, also wants to see her in the office, wants to see her serious face when she's concentrating in some work and wants to face her on the ring many more times. Wants to have someone he can discuss cases with, someone who knows about the danger and the isolation and the misery of some of those cases. He thinks she wants that too, hopes she does.

"Lannister!" Selmy's bark snaps him out of his thoughts, the notes he was supposed to be revising fallen from his lax hands on top of his desk. "Stop daydreaming while you have work to do. My office, now!"

He's out of his chair and crossing the room faster than he has ever done, he must have been truly distracted to miss her entrance, but he can see her now. Brienne, inside of Selmy's office wearing one of her severe suits, sitting in one of the chairs facing Selmy's desk, hands folded primly on her lap and the mark Jaime bit on her neck peeking over the collar of her shirt.

She turns to look when he enters the office and can see the answer to the only question he had on the smile on her face. He would have been happy with whatever decision she made, but something in him wants to see her in action, wants to see her out in the field with him.

"Wipe that grin off your face Lannister and show our newest agent around, she'll begin training in two weeks," Selmy says, still with that same stern and disapproving tone that's not fooling anyone anymore. Brienne stands and approaches him and Jaime leans towards her as if magnetized, eyes fixed on the curl of her lips. "And no kissing in the office!"

"Yes, boss," Jaime cheekily agrees as they walk out of Selmy's office, intending to kiss her as soon as they are out of sight.

He's never been one to follow the rules

...