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Brienne wondered, had she known she was fighting an uphill battle from when she first fell in love with Mathematics, if she would’ve been dogged enough in her more challenging years to keep pushing. It sounded ridiculous when she said it aloud, but there was something about the security in knowing there was a right and wrong answer. It was never about what she looked like, and it felt less dangerous than a creative art where she could fail in some intangible way she couldn’t fix.

No, maths were simple: from the point of a + b = c to f(x) = {1 / √(2π)} ∞∫−∞ F(k)e−ikx dx = ɸ−1[ɸ{f(x)}], there was an approach. A set number of rules that could be followed to either find an answer or to discover there was no answer. Sure, it wasn’t easy, but it made sense. It made sense when nothing else did. It made sense when her mother and siblings were killed in a car crash. It made sense when Renly Baratheon asked her out and the first time she tried to kiss him, he shoved her away and said, “I’m gay,” like she should’ve known. Maths made sense when Ronnet Connington and some of the other guys on the intramural soccer team made a cruel bet to see who could fuck her first.

It didn’t matter how much a professor did or didn’t like her; if she did the work and turned in the right answers, she made the grades. It didn’t matter how many times she looked around an upper-level math class to find out she was the only girl left. Brienne was good.

She knew leaving Winterfell University to study for her masters (and, hopefully, doctorate) at King’s Landing University was the right decision.

She knew it even if she didn’t feel it.

--

Brienne held out hope that Dr. Tully would be her advisor through the stress of starting at a new, much larger, much more prestigious university. He was Dr. Stark’s uncle, and Dr. Stark had told her to email him upon arrival, had assured Brienne that he would be more than happy to give her some guidance through the first few weeks.

But, of course, as with most things, it didn’t work out for Brienne. Instead, she was assigned to Dr. Lannister. She had, of course, done her own research and planning for courses and the sequence for them. She had never been a student that actively looked up their professors on RateMyProfessor or something (who cares if a teacher is attractive?), but she couldn’t resist the temptation to search for Dr. Lannister.

Her stomach sank at the first several reviews. They covered the same information: he was hot as the fire of a thousand suns, but he had a sharp tongue and gave intense, no-holds-barred examinations. Not to mention his annoyed attitude toward people that dare disrupt his classes on any level.

In short, he sounded like a giant asshole.

And he was to be Brienne’s guide through the next two years.

Of course.

--

She wondered if it was some strange ploy on behalf of the University, to give her a guide with a reputation in the community that would render her own research suspect before she’d even begun.

Oh, in the court of public opinion Dr. Lannister had been cleared of all suspicion. The outside world seemed to view him as the last in a long line of lives Aerys Targaryen attempted to ruin, or did ruin, but in the inner circles of academia he was still looked upon warily and with a general distrust of his seemingly loose relationship to ethics.

Stick the woman with him. The ugly, boring, challenging woman. What a pair they would make.

--

Brienne stood outside his door gathering her courage as well as she could before knocking.

“It’s open!”

Dr. Lannister’s head was still bowed over his work. He didn’t bother to look up and greet her.

“Dr. Lannister,” she said, more timidly than she’d intended, but then wasn’t she always a little more timid than she wished when it was only words she had to rely on? It didn’t help when he looked up quickly as if startled that someone whose voice he didn’t recognize was in his office.

“Who are you?” he asked, voice sharp, as if already annoyed by her mere presence.

She held out her hand for him to shake. “I’m Brienne Tarth. You were assigned as my graduate advisor and I--”

He stared at her hand for a moment but didn’t bother to take it. “It’s the first week of the quarter.”

“I know, sir,” she said, dropping her hand, wishing away the blush that she knew stained her cheeks. “But I thought it best to introduce myself and--”

“Come back when you have something to show me,” he said, looking back down at whatever he was working on. She stood dumbly, staring at him, the sinking feeling of her old friend humiliation settling heavy in her throat. She didn’t know how long she’d been frozen in place, but long enough for him to look up again. “You’re dismissed,” he said coldly.

Brienne fled.

--

Brienne wasn’t foolish enough to believe that her advisor would hold her hand through her first quarter at KLU. She was a graduate student, she should be completely capable of navigating herself through the transition process. She should.

But KLU was overwhelming to say the very least. Winterfell U had been tiny in comparison, a small university tucked away in the north, a far cry from the more prestigious and popular schools in the south, but with a surprisingly robust STEM program. Dr. Stark had taken Brienne under her wing from her first class, pushing her gently to connect with other students enough that she at least had a small cadre of acquaintances she could call on when the homesickness got to be too much.

But even her first few weeks there paled in comparison. She felt like an overly large colt trying to stand on its own for the first time, shaky and wobbling. She knew no one, and the campus was so large, the student body so populated that even in her graduate STEM program she felt ill-equipped to carve out a place for herself.

--

Dr. Lannister’s classroom etiquette left something to be desired as well. He was one of those professors that seemed to be annoyed at every question he deemed a disruption of his train of thought. He wasn’t her first professor that scowled when someone asked a clarifying question in the midst of a longer in-class example. He moved fast, frequently blitzing past concepts he expected his students to have committed to memory already, and was disdainful of those that dared ask for an explanation.

It only had the effect of making her feel nervous and uncomfortable in class.

It was worse for others. She could tell more than one person was confused and only getting more so with each class. It wasn’t until Dr. Lannister refused to curve the first exam that the aggravation bordering on anger built in her chest until her hands shook with it by the time she left the review session, if it could even be termed that.

She sent a class-wide email suggesting a study group to go over the notes together. She didn’t mention she was one of the three people to actually pass the first exam easily.

It hadn’t taken her long at all to discover that offering her help got her nothing but disdain and a reputation for having a false sense of superiority.

Strangely, Dick Tarly’s offer of the same help was met with thanks.

(It wasn’t strange. Brienne knew why there was a difference.)

--

Brienne knocked on Dr. Tully’s doorway, waiting for him to beckon her in.

She didn’t know what to expect, but his kind smile and familiar Tully blue eyes immediately unknotted something in her chest.

“Hi, Dr. Tully.” She held out her hand for him to shake. “I’m--”

“Brienne Tarth,” he supplied, gesturing for her to sit. “My niece told me all about you. Please, have a seat and tell me why you’re in my office.”

“I was wondering…” She bit down on her lip. Dr. Tully looked at her steadily, kindly, waiting for her to muster up her courage. “Dr. Lannister is my advisor and…” She trailed off, not quite knowing what she wanted to ask anyway.

“And he’s singularly unhelpful?”

“Well,” Brienne hedged. “I don’t--I’m sure I just don’t know him well enough to know how to--or he’s really busy and he doesn’t have time?”

“He’s meant to make time for you,” Dr. Tully said firmly. “He is a professor, and more importantly, your advisor. He is fond of pushing people so hard he doesn’t have to deal with them. You’ll have to be persistent.”

“He’ll barely let me in his door before dismissing me. He acts as if he doesn’t want to see me before my thesis is all but completed, and--”

“Brienne.” His gaze suddenly sharpened. “I don’t need to be the one to remind you that you are among very few women in the STEM track at this school, which is to say nothing of the fact that you are one of the few women in the Mathematics masters program. I know my niece has reminded you before. Letting men like Jaime shrug you off won’t benefit you in the long run.”

Brienne was furious. Furious at Dr. Tully both for telling her what it was like to be a woman in maths, as if she didn’t already know as much, and for insisting she had to be the one to handle Dr. Lannister. She was…she was tired of handling the men in her field. She was tired of having to work twice or thrice as hard just for people to listen, much less trust that she knew what she was doing.

She made a show of checking her phone. “Oh, I’ve got to get to class,” she said, only glancing up at Dr. Tully. “Thank you for the advice.”

She left before Dr. Tully had a chance to say anything.

--

The discrimination had been easier to ignore when she was young. She didn’t notice that the reason people disregarded or ignored her dreams was because of her gender and not because she was ugly. Most things in her life were due to her appearance, or that’s what she’d always assumed. It took her undergrad advisor dismissing her dreams of a doctorate that it finally dawned on her that it might not be about how she looked.

So, really, Dr. Lannister was just another person in a long list of people that were disinterested in her passions. No one thought she was smart enough or strong enough to last through her doctoral studies and then to push hard enough in the workforce to find her place amongst older, male colleagues.

She had the worst of all worlds. She looked like a linebacker and she was a woman and she was naturally shy, or maybe it was just because her childhood and teen years had been so miserable. At any rate, it sucked. It just sucked and she was tired of clawing her way to just the barest nods of acknowledgement.

But if Dr. Tully was to throw her into the lion’s den, Brienne would just have to prepare for battle as best as she could.

--

Brienne waited until his last office hours of the week to try again. She didn’t want to see Dr. Lannister in class immediately after; maybe with a weekend between their meeting and the next class period he would have time to be...not as pissed off as she imagined she was about to make him.

She opened the door as soon as he said it was open, and instead of waiting for his acknowledgment, she walked over and sat in a chair across the desk from him, dropping her backpack on the seat next to her. He slowly looked up over the rim of his glasses, a truly amusing level of indignation in his expression. He looked…petulant. And angry.

“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked coldly.

“I’m requesting an actual meeting with my graduate advisor,” she said firmly. “Since you won’t respond to emails and you won’t speak to students after class, I--”

“You thought parking yourself in my office chair would change my mind?”

“Actually, I thought that you would have a harder time kicking me out once I’d already sat down.” She shrugged. “I want your feedback on my current thesis topic before I write myself into a corner or turn in something pathetically short of expectations because I didn’t have a clear view of what those expectations were.”

“I won’t do your work for you,” he sneered. “As I said, come back when you have something to show me.”

That was her cue. Brienne unzipped her backpack, pulled out the few pages she had put together as a summary of her proposed topic and slid it across the desk to him.

He didn’t touch it. Instead, he glanced down at it only briefly before meeting her eyes once more. “If this is your idea of a Master’s thesis--”

“You didn’t say you wanted a completed thesis. You said you wanted something to show you. Well,” she gestured to the paper, “there’s what I have for you to review. I’m not going to waste your time or my own by writing thousands of words that won’t work at all. And I can’t imagine you want to read an entire useless thesis either. Have a good day, Dr. Lannister.”

She grabbed her bag and left the room as quickly as possible, shutting the door behind her.

--

It took Dr. Lannister five days to respond, but when he did the entirety of the email was:

 

tarthb001@klu.edu

jaime.lannister@klu.edu

Dissertation

Derivative and simplistic.

Dr. Jaime Lannister, PhD

 

--

The problem with smoothies was that it was hard to make them aggressively., Angrily pushing a button didn’t have the same release as whaling on a punching bag. Brienne didn’t have a punching bag, though, and she desperately needed to do something, and she was hungry.

“Whoa!” Brienne looked up to find Ygritte standing in the doorway, looking unnervingly joyful.

In her search for a place to live while at KLU, Brienne had only considered apartment shares with another post-graduate student. A general rule of thumb was that after a certain point, your roommate was a lot less likely to throw the sort of house party that had noise complaints called in to law enforcement after a few hours.

Still, nothing had really prepared her for Ygritte.

Their first night in the apartment, Ygritte had looked her up and down. Brienne had braced for whatever thoughtlessly cruel comment would come next, but all she said was, “Glad someone can reach the upper cabinets. My last roomie was shorter than me.”

“What are you so pissed off about?”

Brienne thought about saying nothing. She thought about how easy she’d always made it for everyone around her, but she was annoyed enough she didn’t particularly care. “My graduate advisor is an asshole,” she said. It felt good just saying it.

Ygritte left. Brienne blinked at the doorway in confusion, but then Ygritte reappeared, a bottle of whiskey in hand. She poured some into a coffee mug for each of them.

“Tell me everything,” she said, something dangerous in the tilt of her smile.

Brienne laid it all out: the dismissal, the lack of feedback, his arrogant demeanor in the classroom. She vented every single frustration about Dr. Jaime Lannister, right down to his nearly incomprehensible penmanship when writing out equations on the blackboard and leaving feedback on homework.

“You could always request a new advisor,” Ygritte pointed out.

“No,” Brienne said automatically. The thought of him making her turn tail and run was…it wasn’t an option, full stop. “I’m not going to let him win that way. If he wants to be rid of me, he can request the transfer.”

Ygritte rolled her eyes. “I guess if you’re going to get into a game of chicken with your graduate advisor, you might as well push him hard enough to change the status quo.”

“How?”

“I don’t know.” Ygritte shrugged. “Just keep showing up at his office like you have an appointment and don’t leave until you’re ready to, or until he calls security.”

“What on earth would he tell security? ‘Oh no, my graduate student has been in here for fifteen minutes without an appointment. Please, escort her off the premises!’?”

“He is a Lannister,” Ygritte pointed out. “They don’t have to play by normal rules of society.”

--

After an entire weekend of planning, Brienne didn’t have a better plan than just...showing up at Jaime’s office and refusing to leave until she’d spent at least 15 minutes with him. She set a reminder for every Tuesday at 3:30 to go to his office and refuse to let him run her off.

She felt vaguely nauseated standing outside his door the next Tuesday, knocking, waiting for him to beckon her in, and sitting down before he had a chance to say anything, much less protest.

When he did speak, he drawled, “Yes?”

“I want to talk about your feedback in more depth,” she said firmly, clutching her hands in her lap so they didn’t tremble.

“I don’t know what there is to talk about. As I said, your initial concept is little more than derivative of countless other already-published works, to the extent I highly doubt anything you’ve proposed is unique enough to claim research of your own. Simplistic, I think, would explain itself. If it’s confusing, there are dictionaries in the library or online.”

He looked away from her to his computer screen. It was meant to be a dismissal.

“I only submitted three pages, and you can write the whole idea off from that alone?”

“Yes.”

How?”

“Because,” he said, looking back and actually whipping his glasses off, as if he was the cliched annoyed professor from hundreds of movies and shows. “I am a professor and an advisor for master’s and doctorate students, not to mention thousands of undergrads. I think I have a clearer view of your work than you do.”

“Then advise me.”

“Give me something worth advising and I will.”

It was like being slapped.

“You’re refusing to give me anything more than two words of criticism? I’m supposed to build off of that? Is the idea even salvageable or do I need to start over completely?”

“As I told you the first time we met,” he said leaning closer to her, his face tight with annoyance. “I won’t do your work for you.” He sat back again, resting his elbows on the arms of his desk chair. “I expect much of my students. You’ll have to try harder than you did at Winterfell.”

He said it as if Winterfell was some backwoods school she should be embarrassed to have graduated from. She could feel her face flushing hot, so hot that even her ears felt warm.

She didn’t bother looking at the time before she left. The muscles in her back rippled with tension and the need for release.

--

Brienne spent a ridiculous amount of time over the next week racking her brain for where she went wrong and how to salvage it. She believed in her thesis. She was confident that it would come together with enough time and research. She wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of scaring her at the first hurdle. She hacked away at the synopsis, detailing more accurately the research and her supposition of results, adding another seven pages to turn in on Tuesday.

She didn’t so much place it on his desk as slap it down, pressing her hand firmly on the face of it.

“I look forward to your feedback, Dr. Lannister,” she said, surprising herself with how sarcastic her tone was.

She walked out not caring what his expression was, nor what he might have to say.

--

 

tarthb001@klu.edu

jaime.lannister@klu.edu

Dissertation Follow-Up

You can pick the notated copy during my regular office hours.

Dr. Jaime Lannister, PhD

 

--

It was very nearly an invitation, or more of one than she would have expected from him. She waited until Tuesday though, showing up at her self-appointed time of 3:30. This time when she came in and sat down, at least he didn’t seem shocked or disgusted by her mere presence. It might be as kind as mere annoyance.

“It’s there,” he said, gesturing to a stack of papers.

Sure enough, on top was her paper, a shaky JL signed and dated on the front to mark the comments as his. She settled back to flip through it. Calling it notated was generous on his part, there were a few things circled in red with notes scribbled to the side. She was in the middle of deciphering a particularly cramped and jagged one when he interrupted her.

“This isn’t class,” he said. “Review it on your own time.”

She restrained herself from rolling her eyes, but just barely. “Can you at least tell me what this one says?” she asked, turning the paper to face him again.

He squinted at the paper. “Unoriginal and flimsy path for research.”

She bit the inside of her lip before saying something she would come to regret.

“Thank you,” she said tightly.

He nodded once, but offered nothing more as she left.

--

His notes were sparse and somehow cutting despite how few words he used. More to the point, there wasn’t a single positive or at least mildly encouraging one in the bunch. She felt dissected, as if someone had broken her apart, laid out all of her worst parts in a line for ridicule and left her with no idea of how to put it all back together. There had to be a solution to the puzzle, but she couldn’t figure out where to begin.

She didn’t feel like crying, but she felt…lost.

--

The next Tuesday, she’d had enough time with his notes over the weekend to get well and truly frustrated with them, with him, with what he apparently thought was acceptable behavior.

She put her thesis on the desk, flipped to the page where he said her hypothesis was juvenile and flat. “I want to discuss this particular part.”

He dragged the paper closer to him and read it, hummed to himself, took his glasses off and settled back in his desk chair. “Was I not clear in my criticism?”

No,” she said through gritted teeth. “You were not.”

“‘Juvenile’ in this context means that your starting point sounds like it’s the idea of a second-year.” She opened her mouth to respond, but he continued speaking over anything she might’ve thought to say. “‘Flat’ in this context means that even if the hypothesis were at an appropriate level of skill, the results would still be uninspiring no matter how you chose to conduct the research.”

She stared at him, hoping she didn’t look as stupefied and shaken as she felt. He didn’t even blink as he stared back. She didn’t care anymore.

No, that was a lie. She always cared. She was pathologically incapable of not caring.

“Why do you even teach?” she asked, surprised at the sound of her own words.

“Excuse me?”

Her heart thudded in her chest. “You obviously hate it. Why do it? Everyone knows you’re Tywin Lannister’s son, and…”

“And what, Miss Tarth?”

“And everyone knows you could be sitting in an office at Lannister Towers twiddling your thumbs and making ten times what you make here.” His jaw clenched more with every passing word it seemed. “So, if you hate teaching so much, why are you here, Dr. Lannister?”

“That is none of your business,” he said sharply. “I do not hate teaching.”

“Then why are you such an asshole?”

She froze the moment the words left her mouth. It seemed like maybe she had startled Dr. Lannister just as severely. He didn’t move, didn’t even blink.

“You should go,” he finally said, his voice quiet and razor sharp.

She grabbed her stuff and left without a word or backward glance.

--

 

tarthb001@klu.edu

jaime.lannister@klu.edu

Dissertation Feedback

You left your dissertation on my desk. You can pick it up during normal office hours.

Dr. Jaime Lannister, PhD

 

--

Brienne would have avoided him if she could; she would like to avoid him, but exposing one’s soft underbelly was not an option when it came to academia. Still, she gave herself a couple of days before trudging to his office. She had insulted him last time she was there, and he really did not seem the sort to forgive and forget.

Unlike every other time, his office door was ajar just a touch, but she still rapped lightly on it before stepping through. He glanced up at her. “Hello, Miss Tarth.” His voice was strangely soft, as if someone had sanded a rough piece of wood. “Your dissertation is on the filing cabinet.”

She grabbed it, intending to dash out of the room as quickly as possible, but his voice stopped her.

“I would suggest you review the feedback once more,” he said, not looking up at her. “If you can’t decipher my chicken scratch, let me know and we can review it in person. I would strongly suggest you be prepared for discussion next Tuesday.”

She froze, staring at him in shock before flipping through it again, noting the longer commentary scribbled on the backside of the pages. She blinked at him, probably looking like a particularly dull cow. She opened her mouth to respond, though she’d be damned if she knew what she was going to say, but he interrupted her.

“I’ll see you Tuesday at three-thirty.”

It was a dismissal, but a strangely subdued one.

It wasn’t until she’d left his office that she realized he’d been keeping track of her office visits.

--

He’d left...extensive feedback on her proposal, sometimes entire paragraphs. It left her befuddled.

Part of her would have been mortified in undergrad to have received such a large amount of decidedly critical feedback, but it wasn’t cruel or cutting. It was, in a word, helpful. There was the moment of defensiveness, the ready willingness to believe he’d been so critical just to dress her down to size, but in the end, she had to admit that it wasn’t that.

He hadn’t rejected her idea wholesale; he simply pointed out where it needed to be honed to be considered at a graduate level.

If she attacked the revisions with a sort of fervor that kept her up until the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, it was only because she needed the rest of the weekend for her other class reading.

--

Brienne arrived at Dr. Lannister’s office with two copies of her thesis, the one he’d annotated and the revised version. She still had a couple of questions about his notes, but she was pretty sure the new version was at least revised enough for him to take a third pass at it.

He didn’t even look up when she walked in, he simply said, “Miss Tarth,” and gestured to the seat across from him.

She sat and slid the new copy of her thesis across to him. “I made revisions. I think I’m headed in the right direction but I would appreciate your input when you have time.”

He looked up at that, an eyebrow quirked, and what she thought might be a hint of a smile on his lips. “When I have the time? That’s a new attitude.”

She blushed and forced herself not to look away. “I was rude last time. I probably shouldn’t have called you an asshole.”

“Shouldn’t have called me one is not the same thing as saying I wasn’t being one.”

“No, it’s not,” she said, refusing to retract her assessment of his previous method of feedback.

He huffed, an amused noise that wasn’t quite a laugh. “Point taken.” He took note of the annotated copy she had set on the desk. “I take it you have questions?”

“Yes, sir.” She unfolded flipped through the pages to one of his particularly long notes about her usage of prime knots as the start of her research. “Could we actually discuss this one? I want to think through why my idea won’t work, not just hear that it won’t.”

In the strangest turn of events Brienne had experienced in her life up to this point, Dr. Lannister actually engaged her in a discussion. He was the sort to draw her to a conclusion rather than push her, but by the end of the discussion, she looked at her watch startled to see it had been an hour rather than fifteen minutes.

“Shit. I should go.” She quickly gathered her things, stuffing them in her pack. “I really appreciate it.”

He shrugged off her thanks, but didn’t exactly say she was welcome to his help.

--

Things were easier from there on. She had no idea if she’d actually shamed Dr. Lannister into being engaged or if he thought she was interesting only now that she’d been impolite to him--as if he didn’t want a respectful listener for an advisee, but someone more like him: stubborn, sarcastic, combative. It didn’t really matter in the end, since he became engaging and thoughtful, difficult to please, and impossible to impress, but she at least felt like there was something she could strive for. She was, by nature, a people pleaser, and she always wanted to be the best student, she wanted to be the ones her teachers and professors would remember for all the right reasons, but she had a hard time pushing for that. She somehow wanted to accomplish all of that without making too many waves, without calling too much attention to herself--calling attention to herself never did her any good.

But it seemed that maybe this time, just maybe, making a wave benefited her. Dr. Lannister was still dry and occasionally his tongue was as sharp as a knife, but even that became less frequent as the weeks passed.

She almost felt...relaxed around him now. As relaxed as one could be around a leading expert in the field, desperately trying to do well enough to impress him, to dodge and parry his verbal sparring (a task she had always been ill-equipped for), and -- and one who was deeply, unyieldingly handsome.

Unfairly handsome. Really, almost too beautiful to be handsome.

--

“Why Topology?” Dr. Lannister asked.

Brienne looked up startled. “Excuse me?”

“I asked why you chose Topology for your graduate thesis,” he said, gazing at her calmly.

“It’s my favorite,” she blurted, wincing at the juvenile answer.

He snorted in amusement. “Oh? Any particular reason?”

She scowled. “It made the most sense to me from the beginning. Math was always my favorite subject. I like all of it, but my first high school Geometry class, it made me--” she blushed at how silly she would sound. “I was excited. I felt like I could take those principles and hold them in my hands. It’s not an equation to prove out something theoretical, it can be an equation that has a physical manifestation that you can touch.”

His expression had sharpened as she kept speaking.

“Sorry,” she said. “I’m rambling.”

She felt like she couldn’t take a breath until he finally spoke, and then it was only to ask, “And why knot theory?”

She swallowed heavily, nerves singing in response to his unwavering eye contact. “Because at the most basic level they can’t be broken.”

“And that’s important to you?”

“Yes,” she said, her voice strangely light. “You can twist them and compress them and stretch them and they don’t break, they just change.”

He hummed, staring at her unblinking, before he finally looked away to the paper in his hands. “Bring that to your work.”

“My entire work is about knot theory. How can I possibly--”

“No, Miss Tarth,” he interrupted. “The feeling. The thesis itself will be cold and scientific, but your passion for the topic shouldn’t be.”

She blinked, trying to align this attitude with the cold, cutting man she first met. She felt that annoying buzzing at the back of her brain, and the bubbling in her stomach, that deep need to know the why of something, and suddenly, to know the why of him.

--

Brienne didn’t know why she expected to see something of the Dr. Lannister she now knew one-on-one to show up in the classroom, but it never did. He still scowled and spoke in a clipped, harsh tone, as if it was an imposition that he had to teach anything at all, as if students should show up at class ready to conduct it themselves.

He still disdained all questions. He still looked on the verge of popping a vein in his temple when someone interrupted him with a question.

Sometimes, she was tempted to raise her own hand to see if it would result in a different attitude. He was challenging, sure, but in their meetings he was also engaged. He listened, even let her puzzle things aloud, all while staring calmly and steadily. It had the strangest effect of making her feel laid bare, as if there was nothing about her he couldn’t discern.

He would frequently ruin the effect by responding with exactly where she’d gone wrong and why her logic was faulty and why her research would never work how she proposed. But with every passing week, she had the strangest sense of settling into a routine with him. She felt like maybe she wasn’t actually an imposition anymore--and if she was, he would’ve refused to speak to her instead of inviting her in.

Or maybe he just hated being in front of a class.

--

“Oh!” Brienne startled at the sight of someone else in the seat across from Dr. Lannister’s desk. She was merely taking advantage of his office hours for their weekly meetings, but somehow it still seemed odd to see anyone else where she should be, or at least where she normally was.

Dr. Lannister looked up over the head of--oh great--Dick Tarly, a scowl on his face the likes of which she’d never seen, even in class. “Miss Tarth,” he said, his voice as tense as his jaw.

“I’ll just come back later,” she said, her stomach flipping at the harsh look that Dr. Lannister skewered her with. “Or I’ll just wait in the hall until you’re done here.”

“We’re done,” he said, looking at Dick with an expression that made it clear he was dismissed and should retreat posthaste. Dick grabbed his backpack and pushed past Brienne on his way out, throwing a sneer her way for good effect.

She swallowed at the expression on Dr. Lannister’s face as he watched Dick leave, but then he turned to look at Brienne and the flash of anger seemed to fade completely, his body relaxing back into his seat. She quietly made her way over and sat, their eyes never leaving each other.

“We can postpone,” she offered. “I can come back tomorrow--oh wait, you don’t have hours tomorrow. I can come back Thursday?”

He leaned back in his desk chair, took his glasses off and squeezed the bridge of his nose, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. He was silent for another few seconds before replacing his glasses, sitting up straight, and resting his elbows on his desk. “No,” he said plainly. “After that meeting, I need to talk to someone that isn’t a--” He caught himself, swallowed and then said, “I could use a discussion with a student that isn’t solely some sort of entreaty to change their grade because a rich parent won’t be happy they’re failing.”

She couldn’t be sure how much of her surprise and amusement showed on her face, but he looked a bit put out about what did.

It still ended up being another frustrating meeting, another round of trying to unravel the new tangle he found. She would swear he had the list already prepared from the first week and simply chose one at random just when she thought she’d made progress. She was Sisyphus, and he was her boulder. She sometimes left their meetings feeling like she’d made ground with him, possibly impressed him even if he didn’t give her glowing praise; and other times were like this where she felt on the verge of throwing his gold lion’s head paperweight against a wall.

Or at him, depending on how bad it ended up being.

She was almost relieved to be packing her stuff away after the hour was up. She just wished he would listen to her. All he did was find new reasons she couldn’t pursue her topic of choice, and no matter what she presented he had some counterargument. He kept insisting she somehow bring emotions into a scientific paper, that somehow what she’d presented wasn’t passionate enough.

Well, if he wanted…

Brienne unlatched the necklace and set it on the desk in front of him, the etching in the center softened at the edges from repetitively rubbing her thumb over it when she was nervous or puzzling over a difficult problem. He lifted his eyes, one brow raised, a questioning tilt to his head.

“My mother’s,” she said simply. “It was hers before she died, she wanted me to have it, and I’ve worn it every day since.”

“May I?” he asked, his hand hesitating over the pendant. She nodded giving him permission. He lifted it so delicately it may as well have been fragile fine china rather than white gold. He lifted his eyes to hers again. “It’s a--”

“Whitehead link,” she said with a nod, interrupting him. “My mom was really passionate about the history of Tarth, dating back to the first sailors that left the island and brought back different forms of textile and metallurgy from other parts of Westeros and Essos. Well, I think her exact words were more along the lines of pillaging and razing villages.” Brienne couldn’t help the wistful smile. “At any rate, she had a particular interest in the patterns and knotwork.”

“Knot theory,” he said, realization and understanding suffusing his tone.

“I only knew the knotwork from a cultural viewpoint for most of my life,” Brienne explained. “When I learned the mathematics behind it, when I learned the theory and proofs behind these increasingly complex series of knots and links and that an entire branch of mathematics focused on them from the assumption that they’re unbreakable--anything can be broken physically, but theoretically…” she didn’t know how to finish other than shrugging.

“How old were you?” he asked, voice strangely subdued, strangely quiet.

“Second year of undergrad, so--”

“No,” he interrupted, “When your mother passed.”

“Oh.” She glanced down at her hands, her knuckles white and fingers tangled. “Ten. My brother and sisters--she was picking them up from school. I was home sick that day. A transport truck struck her on a blind turn around a cliff. They all...”

“My mother--I was seven,” he said, filling the silence that hung between them when Brienne trailed off. “Complications during the birth of my younger brother. But I can’t even imagine--”

She shook her head to cut him off. “I--Sorry, I just...I don’t want to...I’m so sorry about your mother. It’s not a competition over who had it worse. I simply wanted you-- I want you to know why knot theory, and why I was so insistent that I keep my topic. Maybe it’s not good to be so emotional and close to--”

“No, it’s good.” He cleared his throat and when he spoke again, his voice wasn’t quite so rough. He held the necklace out, and she took it from him, her fingers just brushing against his, warm and soft. She clenched her fingers around it until the annoying tingly sensation subsided and then clasped it around her neck once again, letting it drop down the front of her t-shirt to rest in the valley between her breasts.

“Knot theory,” he said slowly, leaning back in his chair. “You need to push yourself more if you’re dead set on it. Part of my frustration from the beginning was the rudimentary summary. You began from, and suggested, a very surface level, intro-to-topology level topic. It’s not that it would be impossible for you to get your master’s from that, but you’re stubborn, motivated, and you feel deeply connected to your subject matter. Push yourself. Don’t rely on feeling comfortable with something you’ve likely had in the back of your mind for years, I know you’re capable of more than that.”

Flummoxed was the only word Brienne could think of to describe her emotion toward the longest, most flattering piece of feedback he’d ever given her.

“Thank you, I think,” she said.

--

Brienne had definitely become too comfortable with their meetings. She’d forgotten what he could be like, what he was like before he decided to become helpful. To say that the current meeting was frustrating would be a vast understatement. It seemed without warning he’d decided to be cutting, on the edge of cruelty about her work since their last meeting.

“Are you misunderstanding on purpose or have we just reached the limit of your minuscule skill set?” he bit out after the last round of argument over a single fucking line in her dissertation.

She went numb. It had been years since--since someone had implied that she stupid, incapable of something she had set her mind to. She could do no more than stare at him, as if maybe she misheard him, but when he glanced up, his face was lined with frustration, a twist to his mouth that rang too strongly of contempt.

She stood like she’d been electrocuted, silently packed her things, except for the copy of her thesis still under his hand.

“I have to go,” she murmured and left as quickly as she could.

--

 

tarthb001@klu.edu

jaime.lannister@klu.edu

Missed Appointment

You missed our regular meeting. If you need to reschedule for this week, please come at regular office hours. If not, I will see you next week.

Dr. Jaime Lannister, PhD

 

--

Brienne started and deleted approximately ten emails in response, all of them progressively more snide. She sighed and closed her laptop. She could probably make it before his office hours were over for the day and at least she could say her piece and get it over with until their next meeting. If there was a next meeting.

--

Dr. Lannister raised an eyebrow when he saw her standing in the doorway of his office.

“Miss Tarth?”

“Dr. Lannister.” Brienne only stepped into the room far enough to shut the door behind her. His other brow joined the first. She took a slow breath, the kind that filled every inch of her lungs.

“Are you going to sit?”

“No.” She rolled her shoulders back and looked down her nose at him, remembering the false bravado she cloaked herself in like armor all through middle and high school. “I won’t allow you to insult me like you did at our last meeting. I can ignore your sharper comments when they’re productive, but you were being, as I’ve told you before, an asshole. I thought you respected me enough that you wouldn’t treat me that way again, but if that’s not the case, I won’t sit here and take it on the chin. I deserve better.”

He looked gobsmacked, the grip on his pen slackening as she kept going until he finally set it down, his eyes never leaving her face.

She nodded decisively and turned. She had her hand on the doorknob when his voice stopped her.

“I do,” he said. She looked over her shoulder at him, his face tight with something other than anger. “Respect you, that is. I don’t have a good excuse. I was in a great deal of pain Tuesday and lashed out at the nearest person. An old habit, I’m afraid, but one I’ll try to be more mindful of. I apologize for my behavior.”

She blinked in surprise. “Are you okay?”

He huffed a derisive laugh. “Yes, Miss Tarth, I have had cause to apologize before.”

“No,” she said, rolling her eyes. “You said you were in pain. Are you okay?”

He stared at her for a long moment. “Yes. It’s an old injury that makes itself known from time to time.”

“Oh.” She wanted to ask more. She’d made herself so vulnerable, talking about her mother, and he’d returned with his own history. Maybe if she just asked, he would--

“I have time now, if you do,” he said softly. She blinked and focused on his face again, brows coming together in momentary confusion. “We can finish our meeting.” He must have seen the hesitation in the firming of her shoulders, because he sighed and ran his left hand over his face, and then brushed the hair away from his forehead. “Our meetings are usually my only moment of actual enjoyment at this place. I know I can be hard on you, but it’s not because I don’t respect you, it’s because I don’t know any other way to be. I am an asshole. No one will disagree with you, not even I. So, if you have time,” he said in a way that somehow lifted the fine hairs on her arms, “I would like to finish our discussion.”

She could feel the blush flow from her heart through every vein, unfurling until her whole body felt warm and full. She hated that she wanted approval so badly, but she hated more the fact that approval from him in particular felt like a victory, the same burst of adrenaline singing down her spine and prickling in her nerves. She swallowed thickly, cleared her throat, and moved to the chair on strangely weak legs.

“I have time,” she said, finally breaking eye contact to reach into her backpack, drawing a breath so shaky she only hoped he couldn’t hear.

--

Brienne was in trouble. Big trouble. Terrible trouble.

Well, not trouble, because it was hardly the first crush she’d had. The troublesome thing was being in her mid-twenties and still developing useless crushes on unobtainable men. Not that that had ever been a prerequisite for Brienne to funnel a whole mess of emotions into useless fantasy. If she hadn’t spent a lifetime of repressing feelings in the face of someone she’d built up in her own mind, she would be a wreck now. Luckily for her, she was all but a pariah thanks to her penchant for pretty men.

Dr. Lannister must have been terribly pretty when he was younger if his current looks were anything to go by. In fact, the smile lines just forming at the corners of his eyes, and the carefully trimmed beard combined with hair he couldn’t seem to stop mussing up by running his hands through it somehow made how handsome he was much, much worse. So much worse.

It wasn’t as if anyone could blame Brienne for her attraction.

It was just very unfortunate.

--

Dr. Lannister had a tennis-sized rubber ball in his right hand, squeezing it and relaxing his grip in a rhythm and then slowly rolling it across the desk with his palm. It had the sort of repetitive, mindless quality of the PT exercises she did after ACL surgery.

Brienne?” She startled at the sound of her name, looking up at him. He had an eyebrow raised and a smirk tipping the corner of his mouth up. She flushed, realizing that she’d been nearly mesmerized by the patterns he’d been making. “Welcome back.”

“Sorry,” she murmured. “I--” she stopped herself.

“Did you have a question?”

“I was going to ask what happened to your hand, but that’s--obviously that’s none of my business.”

“It’s not a state secret,” he said, shrugging. “You could find out the same information by looking me up on the internet. I’m surprised you didn’t do that rather than ask the asshole of the math department.”

“I didn’t even think of it.” She wrinkled her nose at the idea of deep-diving into his past on her own time.

He huffed a quiet laugh. “It’s not very interesting. A horse bucked me off and trampled my hand in the process.”

“Oh.” It seemed so banal for something so life-altering.

“You seem disappointed.”

“No!” She said, staring at him in horror. “No, it’s awful. I’m so sorry.”

You didn’t crush my hand,” he said. He smiled at the annoyed expression on her face. “It doesn’t do to dwell. The anger gets the better of me if I think about it too often. You can see how bad I am when I’m only in pain. Imagine me in pain and actively bitter.”

“I’d rather not, thank you”.

He chuckled at that, a low, round sound that came from his chest and lit his eyes and made her ache. “I gave my therapists hell, physical and mental alike.” He tossed the ball and caught it in his left hand before passing it back into his right with a measured amount of force, wincing as he gripped it quickly. “I had to learn to write with my left hand, which as you can see is going swimmingly. The list of things I had to relearn because my dominant hand was completely useless for months is extensive, and every one of them made me angrier by the day.”

She watched as he repeated the motion of tossing the ball in the air, catching it with his left hand and passing it to his right. “How long ago?”

“Five years, give or take a few months.”

She lifted an eyebrow, making it plain she didn’t buy that he didn’t know the exact day and time his life was changed. He smiled ingratiatingly. “And it still hurts?”

“There was a lot of nerve damage.” He shrugged. “I’ll never have full range of motion back, and I’ll always have pain, but there are fewer bad days as time passes, and hey, as you so gently pointed out, I can always quit and go twiddle my thumbs at Lannister Corp.”

She blushed, not the warm, wobbling feeling in her chest of tender pleasure, but the burning deep mortification of having stuck her foot in her mouth in an almost irretrievable way. “I shouldn’t have said that.” she murmured. “I was angry. I was so excited about my ideas and it felt like…”

“Like what?” He was peering at her as if studying her or looking for something she couldn’t put a finger on.

“Like maybe everyone else was right,” she admitted, her jaw tight around the words.

“Right about what?” He didn’t sound angry, but he certainly didn’t look placid.

“Right about--” she pointed at her thesis sitting between them. “That my work isn’t up to snuff. That it’s simplistic and unimaginative. That all I’ve got is a higher than average skill for mathematical logic and numbers, but nothing intangible that creates a real expert. That--”

“Brienne,” he interrupted her gently. Her breath caught in her chest, hoping for some declaration of how wrong he’d been, how he was simply challenging a brilliant student to prove their own skill to them, how-- “No one is an expert in the first week of graduate school.”

“Oh,” she said, not even sure why she felt so stung. It wasn’t as if he’d lied or insulted her.

He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath in through his nose. When he opened them again, he looked frustrated. “You respond well to feedback, insulting your advisor notwithstanding. You don’t outright accept that whatever I tell you is sacrosanct. You’re annoying, but it’s not because you’re incapable.”

“Thank you?”

He looked very unimpressed. “I don’t toss about empty compliments, Miss Tarth. You’re annoying because you are persistent to the point of madness, but that and having the skills and intelligence for this path are not mutually exclusive.”

Her stomach settled at that, at the begrudging way he delivered the compliment--as if he were so unused to praising anyone that it was as if he were speaking a language he hadn’t spoken in years. She ducked her head, smiling softly, hoping her face wasn’t quite as openly pleased as she felt. She wasn’t entirely sure she succeeded when she looked up at him and he paused, his expression stilling before he finally cleared his throat.

“Are you going home for the fall break?” he asked, shifting subjects rather abruptly.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “I don’t get to see my dad much. He hates getting off the island, so I try to make it back there when I can.”

He nodded. “Then I’ll see you in two weeks.”

She swallowed, a strange feeling settling at the bottom of her sternum. “Two weeks, as long as you don’t somehow foist me off on someone else before fall break is over.”

“It would serve you right.” He smirked. “I’m afraid I’m invested now. I don’t put this much time into a project without intending to see it to the end.”

She nodded curtly. “Then I’ll see you in two weeks.” She grabbed her stuff and stopped at the door to look over her shoulder and say, “Have a good break.”

“You too.”

--

For the most part, Brienne was relieved to be having a week-long break. All she wanted was to wrap herself in one of her dad’s old sweatshirts and a warm pair of joggers and spend every day on the beach, the cool mist chilling her face, the salt air tangling her hair and the sand clinging to every inch of her as the crashing waves lulled her into true relaxation.

There was no place that felt like home the way the beaches of Tarth did. The mainland of Westeros had beaches that were beautiful, if tourist traps, but nothing was as beautiful as the craggy cliffs and dark sand and rough deep blue water of her home. She even managed to simply relax her first weekend back, going out with her father on his boat and helping him drag up crab traps.

But then, Tuesday rolled around and as if she were Archmaester Ebrose’s dogs, there was a buzz at the nape of her neck, a nervousness under her skin, as if her brain and body knew she was meant to be doing something other than lying around and reading for pleasure. She gave in at midday and retrieved her laptop, pulling up her thesis and flipping through the notes she’d left for herself after her last meeting with Dr. Lannister.

She kept having to stop her fingers from tapping out a nervous rhythm, and then her pen from tapping, and then her leg from jittering. Why she should miss her meeting instead of being relieved at having a break from the tangled mess of stress and emotion and self-consciousness was beyond her, but she opened an email to him more than once, intending to send some question or other. It was pathetic. He almost certainly wouldn’t respond until after break, and she would see him the day after getting back to King’s Landing anyway.

Still…

jaime.lannister@klu.edu

tarthb001@klu.edu

Dissertation Note Question

I’m reviewing your notes from our last meeting and I can’t quite make this one out. I don’t expect a response now, but I want to make sure we can address it at the next meeting so that I don’t forget.

Brienne Tarth

 

Brienne attached a picture of the note, and she truly didn’t know exactly what it said. It was not just an excuse to give herself some semblance of her routine, and it certainly wasn’t an excuse to create an illusion of her weekly meeting with Dr. Lannister.

She worked idly, half-heartedly making notes of things to research over break. Maybe she would do some reading on the beach, let the stretching and pulling of the water over the shore inspire her. Finally, she had to admit that she’d reached the limits of both reviewing the notes for the nth time and the itch to check her email before retreating back outside.

She pulled up her email one more time, expecting nothing, only to see one unread message from Dr. Lannister.

 

tarthb001@klu.edu

jaime.lannister@klu.edu

Re: Dissertation Note Question

You’re on your break. Take a break. The dissertation will be here next week.

But to answer your question, I want you to consider if you’re going to lose the point if you go down a digression with introducing a consideration of hyperbolic link vs torus link when your work is centered around torus links. Don’t explain every path not taken.

Dr. Jaime Lannister, PhD

 

Brienne was glad he couldn’t see the blush that stole over her cheeks at the first line of his email, but then she checked the time stamp and realized he had responded within an hour, so he must not have minded too terribly.

 

jaime.lannister@klu.edu

tarthb001@klu.edu

Re: Dissertation Note Question

You’ll excuse me for thinking it would be a bad idea to show up underprepared next Tuesday.

I hope you’re actually taking a break as well. I’ll save any other questions for next session.

Brienne Tarth

 

She made herself close her laptop and go outside.

She didn’t check it until the next morning--a great show of restraint, in her estimation.

 

tarthb001@klu.edu

jaime.lannister@klu.edu

Re: Dissertation Note Question

A professor’s work is never done.

Feel free to send me any other dire questions.

Dr. Jaime Lannister, PhD

 

--

It wasn’t that Brienne was excited to see Dr. Lannister after break. She was excited to get back to her routine; it was merely a coincidence that her meetings with him were a significant aspect of that routine. Still, she couldn’t help the queer feeling in her hips and knees, as if she should be in the middle of her morning run instead of simply climbing the stairs to the third-floor offices.

She didn’t realize she was smiling until it faltered at the sight of him. He all but scowled at the sight of her, not even bothering with a greeting before she sat down. She eyed him warily as she retrieved her paper from her backpack, setting it on the desk facing her.

“Um,” she said, trying to ignore the warning signs tripping across her nerve-endings.

“Yes?” His voice was cool and clipped and unnerving.

“I made some revisions based on our discussion over break,” she said, throat tight as she flipped to the pages in question. “I think I’ve managed to redirect myself away from the diversion into hyperbolic links, but I keep tripping over how to make the connection seamless in this part if I cut that, but then if I keep in the explanation of hyperbolic links then--”

“If our never-ending series of emails over break didn’t enlighten you, then I don’t know how I could possibly help you more.”

She blinked, her stomach flipping over, a nervous tremble traveling down to her feet. It was true, they had emailed several times over the break, but--but he had always emailed her back within an hour, and he’d never asked her to stop, and--

“It’s always more useful to actually discuss it in person,” she said quietly. “I was able to make revisions on my own, and I think I’m ninety percent of the way there on this particular issue, but I’d like to discuss it and get a better handle on where I went wrong and a different path I could take.”

“I’m not sure what else I could say that could possibly enlighten you when twenty emails apparently didn’t,” he said in a clipped tone.

It hit her like a fist to the gut, the derision in his tone and cool expression on his face.

“I think it would be best if I left,” Brienne said quietly, grabbing her stuff and sticking it in her backpack. “We can pick this up next week or over email or something.”

“Is this all it takes to make you run with your tail between your legs?” he snapped. “And here I thought you were mature enough to handle some real criticism.”

“I thought you--” Brienne shook her head, stood and slung her bag over one shoulder. She felt so stupid. She should’ve known better than to trust that he’d actually come to respect her. “I promised myself this year would be different, that I wouldn’t just sit and take whatever abuse came my way. I--” but she had no idea how to finish that sentence.

“Brienne, wait,” he said, standing. She shook her head and turned, desperate to get out of his office before she started crying. She didn’t hear him walking nearer, but suddenly his hand was on her wrist, lightly grasping to slow her.. She turned to face him once more, blotchy with embarrassment and anger in equal measure. “I’m sorry. I had a bad weekend. My family--”

“I’m not your family,” she said, her chin jutting out. “I’ll be back next week, or you can let me know when you’re feeling better.”

She turned to leave again, but then his hand tightened and actually pulled her this time, and then somehow she was against his body, and he was leaning up and then his mouth was on hers.

Dr. Lannister’s mouth was on hers, his lips capturing her bottom one, his tongue lightly brushing against it. She whimpered, whether from shock or the feeling or how her chest suddenly felt too big for her lungs but incongruously too small for her heart or…

He wrapped his arms around her waist, holding her against his warm, firm body, and she jerked away, panic slamming her like a battering ram. She thumped against the wall behind her, lifting a hand to her swollen, damp mouth, her chin tingling from the slight abrasion of his beard. She couldn’t get a deep breath, all she could do was stare at him in wonder, wonder and shock and fright and feeling feeling feeling.

He looked -- he looked regretful, an expression on his face that she could only label as sadness, maybe pity, it was certainly an expression she didn’t quite recognize and she didn’t like the way it settled like sour milk in her stomach.

“I’ve--I--” Brienne dropped her eyes, unable to look at him anymore, to see that expression and wonder how much he hated himself and her. She took a long steadying breath. “I have to go.”

She was out the door before he had a chance to say anything, leaving it open in her wake, hoping she didn’t run into anyone who would realize how wrecked she felt.

--

Brienne paced back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. In even that brief moment of his mouth on hers, she felt like all of the bonds holding her cells together had exploded in a fury of -- of -- she didn’t even know.

She’d been kissed a few times, always by boys who were doing anything but simply kissing her. On some level, surely Dr. Lannister had been doing the same. But what he was doing was beyond her. She thought she knew him well enough by now to know that he -- she simply didn’t think he was the type of man that went around -- around -- fucking his students. And she was -- she was Brienne. She was ugly and boring and taller than him and probably stronger than him too.

She was all of this, and he barely seemed to listen to her most days. Well, it had gotten better since The Confrontation, but he was still Dr. Lannister: challenging, sharp-tongued, handsome and smart. He was as handsome as she was ugly, had power where she had none, he was a goddamned heir to a fortune and she was a nobody from some barely-there island off the coast of Storm’s End.

It didn’t make sense. He didn’t need anything from her. He barely liked her most of the time.

It didn’t help that people on the mainland of Westeros were ridiculously interconnected, either through marriage or relation. Renly’s brother was married to Dr. Lannister’s sister, so he was out. Dr. Stark would definitely lose her shit and try to get Dr. Lannister fired (at best). That obviously meant Sansa was out. Margaery’s brother was Renly’s current boyfriend, and if Renly told anyone (which he would, because Renly couldn’t keep an actual secret to save his life), then it would eventually get back to the Starks or the Tullys or to Renly’s other brother and his wife, Cersei Lannister and then to Dr. Lannister or his father somehow, and she would be the one ostracized from the academic community.

She knew too well how the world worked for a young woman in a male-dominated field when she accused a well-respected man of misconduct. Not that she was accusing him of misconduct. She’d never felt ill at ease around him before. Angry, aggravated, infuriated, and a whole host of other adjectives to describe her urge to throw one of her textbooks against a wall, or run directly to the gym and hit a punching dummy until her knuckles almost bled. But not unsafe. Not like she was the target of some strange sexual powerplay.

She wondered if that’s why her legs still felt strangely weak beneath her, if that was why her hands were still trembling.

More, she wondered how she could possibly show up for their next session and act like nothing was amiss.

So she didn’t.

--

 

tarthb001@klu.edu

jaime.lannister@klu.edu

Subject: Dissertation Update

You missed our last scheduled meeting to review the progress on your dissertation. Please respond with your availability so I can cross reference with mine.

Jaime Lannister, PhD

 

Brienne stared at the email for long enough that she could’ve recited it aloud, closed her computer, and went for a run.

--

He wouldn’t come looking for her, she knew that at least. It would be crossing a line if he showed up to ask how she was and where she’d been. He didn’t even email after the first one. Whether that was because the school tracked the emails and it would be suspicious, or because he was scared she would tell someone, or--

It didn’t really matter why. What mattered was that Brienne had time and space until she chose to go back to his office. But the longer she delayed the inevitable, the easier it would become to never go back, and she had promised herself she wouldn’t be that girl again.

His office door was open two weeks later when she finally turned back up. She rapped her knuckles lightly on the doorway to get his attention. She didn’t know him well enough to read the quick flow of emotions that passed over his features as he gestured for her to sit. She could tell what the tightening of his mouth meant, though, when she left the door open.

We’re not going to talk about what happened and it’s not going to happen again.

Things were stilted, but not hostile, as they went over her progress in the intervening weeks. If she asked fewer questions, and he offered less light-hearted commentary, that hardly signified.

It wasn’t until she was gathering her things to leave that he finally took off his glasses and looked at her like he was seeing her.

“Can we--”

She cut him off, ignored his beseeching expression. “We don’t need to. Everything is fine. I’ll see you next week.”

“I wanted to apologize,” he said quietly.

“There’s no need.” She shook her head. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. I know how this goes and--just don’t worry, I’m going to ignore it.”

He looked like he’d been slapped. “I’m not worried you’re going to--what do you mean how this goes?” His expression sharpened. “Has anyone done this to you before?”

“No!” she said, louder than she’d intended. She looked over her shoulder to check before lowering her voice and continuing. “No one has, but we both know how this goes.”

“I don’t think I do.”

“Even if I did want to report you, which I don’t, but if I did, I wouldn’t. Even if you were punished, I would be the girl from some backwater island that thought she had a place here and who tried to take down one of the most well-respected men in the field. And for what? A minor alleged infraction.”

Alleged? That’s not--”

“I have to go,” she interrupted him, wanting nothing more than to get out of his office immediately. As she left though, she turned in the doorway to look back at where he was still staring at her. “It’s okay. I know you didn’t mean anything by it.”

And with that she hurried down the hallway.

--

She managed to keep their meetings short and purely professional for a few weeks, but it was like an itch on a part of her back she couldn’t scratch, or a mosquito buzzing by her ear. It was always there and it was making her more frustrated with every passing day. She didn’t want yet another thing on her plate she couldn’t control; she had no idea why he’d done it or what he’d wanted to say to her about it.

Their next meeting, she closed the door behind her and Dr. Lannister’s shoulders tensed, a wary expression on his face. She sat carefully in the chair across the desk from him and set her backpack on the floor, took a deep breath, and raised her eyes to meet his.

“I think we should talk about what happened,” she said, hoping her voice was as even as she meant it to be.

She watched his Adam’s apple bob with a deep swallow as he placed his elbows on his desk, his hands flat on the top as if bracing himself. He opened his mouth briefly as if to say something, but then closed it and gestured for her to go first.

“I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why you--” she couldn’t help but look over her shoulder as if to reassure herself that the door was closed. “Why you did what you did, and I can’t figure it out. There’s nothing in it for you. You said yourself, my research so far hasn’t been exactly groundbreaking. I know it’s getting there, but it’s not like you need to take my ideas from me. It’s not like I’m the hot student that a man would throw his career away for. I don’t know why you did it, and it’s driving me crazy.”

“I did it because…” Dr. Lannister sighed and took off his glasses, so he could scrub his face with his hands. He ran them through his hair, pulling on the ends and looking up at the ceiling. “It’s a terrible reason, but I did it because I wanted to, and I was too in the moment to stop myself. I should never have crossed that line and you have every reason to leave the door open during our meetings.”

“But why?”

The corner of his mouth ticked up in a rueful barely-there smile. “No reason that will justify doing it in the first place.”

That little flame of rage, the pilot light inside of her that had been burning steadily since she was a child, threatened to flare to life. “If you aren’t going to tell me, there’s really no reason for me--”

“Brienne,” he interrupted. Her face twisted in a scowl, an angry retort on the tip of her tongue, but before she had a chance to speak, he said, “I like you. You’re determined, intelligent. You refuse to accept it when I’m caustic and rude. You’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever met, and for some goddamn reason, I look forward to seeing you for every meeting. There aren’t many people I can say that about.”

She had no idea what to say and all of the self-recrimination and taunts of bullies and teachers and strangers seemed to coil in her brain all at once in that knot of self-doubt she’s spent so long unraveling. “But I’m…”

“You’re what?” he asked softly, leaning toward her over his desk just a fraction more.

“I’m…” All she could think to do was gesture at herself, up and down as if putting herself on display and waiting for his vision to focus. But he didn’t supply the answer, he just looked at her with a raised eyebrow and a patient sort of demand in his eyes. “Fine,” she said sharply. “I’m not the cute little co-ed professors get in trouble for.”

It was his turn to scowl, his eyebrows drawing together, his mouth flattening into a firm line. “I think I should be offended.”

She couldn’t stop the blush that stained her cheeks no matter how badly she wanted to. “I don’t think you’re waiting around for--for--for a student to seduce.”

Seduce.” He repeated, staring at her like she’d grown a second head. “If this was my attempt at seduction, it’s no wonder I’m single.”

“Dr. Lannister--”

He flinched. “Well, at least I know I haven’t suddenly developed a fetish for being called Dr. Lannister.”

Her nose wrinkled. “What should I call you instead?”

“You should call me whatever you feel comfortable calling me,” he said heavily.

She stared at him, at the faint lick of shame in his eyes. She sighed. “Jaime,” she tried, the name foreign on her tongue. He swallowed thickly, his expression making her heartbeat thump ever faster. “I don’t think you’re trying to seduce me. I don’t know what you’re doing. Trust me, I’ve tried my best to figure out what you could possibly find attractive enough about me to take the risk you did.”

“You have ideas, interesting ones, once someone breaks through that wall you live behind,” he said. “I really didn’t want to deal with a student so early in the semester with such a half-formed idea on my desk. I’m not a friendly man, in general, but you -- you weren’t going to let me push you aside. You demanded my attention, and instead of being grateful for it, you all but raked me over the coals on a weekly basis for my attitude.” He sounded almost offended, but the humor in the tilt of his lips was anything but. “I am sorry, though,” he said. “I know it was unwelcome, and I swear I won’t do anything that crosses that line again.”

“It wasn’t,” she blurted out, not wanting him to feel like -- like he had assaulted her with some sort of unwanted advance. Of course it wasn’t unwanted. Of course. But that never seemed like it would matter at all; he was hardly her first unattainable object of desire. “Unwelcome, I mean. It wasn’t unwelcome.”

“Brienne,” he said, and it almost sounded like a warning. It almost sounded like begging.

“I don’t want you to...” She had to look away from him. “If you feel bad because you’re my advisor, I can’t stop that. But if you feel bad because you think I didn’t want it, you shouldn’t.” She lifted her eyes to his again to find something that made her blood feel hot in her veins, a look she’d never seen directed her way.

“You understand that I can’t,” he said, eyebrows drawn together in concern. Then as if fearing she didn’t catch his meaning. “That we can’t.”

She felt on the verge of panic...but no, that wasn’t quite what it was. It was something else, something magnificent, like being on the edge of a cliff and deciding whether jumping would leave her free-falling into calm waters or splayed on a jagged rock.

So she nodded calmly. “I--” but she didn’t continue whatever she was going to say, she wasn’t sure what she was going to say, she just wanted to be the sort of woman that had any experience that would remotely prepare her for this, to navigate the arousal and fear and nerves and want that could never be satisfied. She wished she had any experience in being the sort of woman that could afford to throw caution to the wind and reach across his desk, to drag him in by his lapels and kiss him like she knew what she was doing.

Gods knew she’d thought about it enough.

The silence was suffocating her, the anxiety bubbling up into her throat. She might have fled if not for Jaime taking pity on her.

“What progress have you made with your dissertation?” he asked evenly, and with that she could take a deep breath finally.

She knew how to have this conversation, and it finally felt normal again, like before he had kissed her. If there was a different sort of tension thrumming beneath, it didn’t affect their ability to go head-to-head over her research. He didn’t hold back-- he never di,d really--but there was a shift from the last few weeks. He was back to his frustrating, nearly sarcastic comments on her current path. It was nice.

After, when she rose to leave, she got as far as turning to face the door, her pack slung over her shoulder and stopped. She took a deep breath, tried to swallow past the lump in her throat and calm the nerves that made her limbs feel like they were barely attached to her body. She turned to face him again. He looked up, eyebrows raised.

“If--if I weren’t your student, would you...” Brienne said stupidly, so stupidly. He stared as her chest rose and fell rapidly, trying to fill her lungs with enough air to calm her. “I should go,” she whispered when he didn’t say anything.

“In an instant,” he said once her back was turned. She paused and looked over her shoulder. “If you weren’t my student, I wouldn’t even hesitate.”

He looked a little wrecked.

She knew the feeling.

--

Brienne sat on the edge of her bed, staring at the wall. She had never in her life done something that she without question knew was a bad idea, but she kept running it over and over in her mind. I wouldn’t even hesitate. No one, no one, had ever said something to her with that sort of heat in their gaze. It made her skin feel too small for her body, flushed and almost aching for something.

Tarth,” Ygritte’s voice finally cut through her reverie. Brienne had no idea how long she’d sat there staring at nothing, running the kiss over and over in her head like a movie. “Are you okay?”

“Huh?” Brienne blinked. “Yeah, yeah. I’m fine.”

“Ya sure? Because you were staring at that blank wall like it held the answer to something.”

Brienne took a deep breath, met Ygritte’s eyes, and it was all so much. She’d never had a real friend. Not one that was only for her, not one that was separate from the rest of her life.

“I met someone.”

“No shit!” Ygritte looked positively giddy compared to her usual scowl. “Didn’t think you had it in you, Tarth. Who is it?”

Panic. That was what she felt, the sudden rush of blinding panic that had the breath catching in her chest.

“Whoa.” Ygritte moved to sit next to Brienne on the bed, planting a firm hand on her shoulder and patting once, like she’d never had to comfort anyone in her life. “Is it a girl or something?”

“What?” Brienne blinked, forehead furrowed in confusion. “No. Why would--no. It wouldn’t matter if it was a girl. It’s not. But it wouldn’t matter.”

“Then why the fuck do you look like you’re gonna blow chunks?”

Brienne’s nose scrunched in distaste. “I--” she had no idea how to even describe why she felt on the verge of panicking over something as simple as meeting someone she liked. “It’s a bad idea.”

“Oh shit, is he married?”

“No!” Brienne said reflexively. “Gods, no. He’s…older.”

“How much older? Like grandpa older? Or just sugar daddy older?”

Somehow, Ygritte really made the whole thing sound so much more salacious. Or did she? Brienne had been on the verge of making out with her graduate advisor in his office with other professors milling about outside. Gods, maybe it was worse than even Ygritte made it sound. Brienne closed her eyes and took a steadying breath.

“He’s younger than my dad,” she settled on. “Forty, maybe? I don’t know exactly.”

Nice.”

“What?”

“Older men are less prone to being total shitheads. Well, unless they’re broken by a series of shit relationships. Is he divorced?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Brienne,” Ygritte said slowly. “When you say you met someone, do you mean you literally just met a man while in line for coffee?”

She scowled at Ygritte. “No. I just--we haven’t gotten into the details.”

“From someone that’s fucked a few men of all ages,” Ygritte said. “Work out the details first before you end up with some guy still inside you and crying about his ex or, gods forbid, his parents.”

Brienne stared after her as she left, feeling somehow heavier than before.

--

Brienne clearly remembered the first time she was introduced to the concept of limits in her Calc 1 class, particularly the concept that the limit didn’t always exist. It took root in a way no concept had before and in a way no concept would after. She held fast to the thought during the scandal after word got out after The Bet; she held fast when she left her father behind on Tarth to study at Winterfell; she held fast when she accepted the offer from KLU to join their Masters of Mathematics program.

She could be that equation.

She could be a person that never crashed. She could keep going, no matter how far, and she could keep going, never hitting zero.

She had to believe she was still that person even when she knew that Jaime could be the variable that changed her in a single moment of recklessness, reducing the sum of her hard work to zero.

--

The veneer of normality in their meeting was a thin one at best. It was hard to even look him in the face when all she wanted to do was run away or leap across the desk or--or anything except sit primly across the desk discussing the minutiae of testing samples for her research. She barely withheld a heavy sigh of relief when the hour was finally up and she could run away, but just as she had unzipped her backpack, Jaime interrupted her.

“The day I kissed you…” Brienne flushed immediately, her chest exploding in a burst of sharp warmth. The way his eyes latched onto hers did nothing to quell that shaky feeling, bordering on excitement and fear. He was rubbing his thumb on the lacquered top of his desk, a strange tick that betrayed his nerves, his own fear. “When I said it was my family--I want you to know what I meant.”

“Okay,” she said shakily, knowing from the tone of his voice that something beyond simply a bad dinner was coming.

“I’m--” he dropped his gaze suddenly, breathing out and cringing. “I’m dyslexic.”

It was a surprise, but she was nonplussed by the wayhe delivered the news, like he was sharing some horrific act from his youth. “I’m not sure--”

“My father--oh, fuck, he thought I was an idiot,” Jaime blurted out. “He took it as some personal slight against his family that I wasn’t reading when my twin sister was, that I wasn’t speaking when she was, that I made poorer grades than she did, that--well, you get the picture. He seemed to take every opportunity he had when I was a kid to make it clear that I was failing to live up to his picture of what his son, his heir, should be.”

“Surely you know, it’s not that unusual for--”

“Oh, I know,” Jaime said bitterly. “My teachers and then professors made it perfectly clear that it wasn’t as if I were some sort of anomaly. Maybe my father even knew that, but he certainly expected better of his son.”

“Jaime,” she said, suddenly so sad imagining the man before her as a small child, and the shame she could still see in his eyes--

He waved her concern off. “Numbers made more sense. I got lucky, I guess. Dyslexia without dyscalculia.” He shrugged. “At any rate, word problems were miserable, but the work itself, the concepts, they made sense when nothing else did. When everything else made it clear I was broken, a disappointment and a failure, I could at least hang my hat on this one thing.”

“I had no idea,” she said, stupidly maybe, why she would know was beside the point.

“Most people don’t. By the time I was at university I had learned enough coping mechanisms to hide it pretty well. And hey, luckily my family is rich so I didn’t have to work a job during school. It gave me enough time to study and have off-site study help, but I’ll always hate board work and I’ll always hate handwritten feedback, those are the hardest, the things an automated spell check won’t catch.”

“I--” She realized in a wave of crushing guilt the number of times she had pushed for more handwritten feedback, for more feedback in writing in general, how much easier it was in a discussion than in writing and --

“Don’t look like that,” he said, sounding genuinely upset. “You didn’t ask for anything beyond what you were entitled to, and it’s not as if I did anything other than act like a prick.” He laid his hand over hers on the desk. “Unknot your eyebrows and stop frowning. I chose to teach, Brienne. I knew what the job entailed.” He rubbed his thumb along the arch of her first knuckle; she sucked in a breath at the wave of sensation that swept through her body and bit her lower lip.

“Thank you for telling me,” she said quietly. “Your trust in…I…thank you. For everything.”

When she left that day, she knew--well, she knew something would have to change. She was so close; he was too close. Her whole body felt like it was on fire and then dunked in an ice bath over and over. She had no idea how to continue in this horrible physical tension==and worse, the part of her that ached deep inside to reach for him and hold him.

--

Their routine was so well-established that Jaime was genuinely surprised to see her standing in the doorway when she went to his office on a Thursday, his expression fading to one of concern. She wasn’t sure what he saw on her own face, but it felt like everything faded around her until it was just the two of them and the weight of what needed to be said.

“Do you have a minute?” she asked softly.

“Of course,” he said just as quietly.

She took a deep breath and turned to close the door behind her. He visibly swallowed as she moved as if through molasses to sit in the chair across from him. Neither of them seemed to be particularly motivated to break the silence, but it couldn’t last forever and the longer it went on…

“I’m going to switch advisors after winter break,” she said, trying to say it as matter-of-factly as possible, instead of with the emotion she actually felt. It was as if every muscle in his face tightened at once. He sank back in his chair, stroking his left hand over his mouth and jaw.

“This isn’t because--”

He gave her a look, one she’d never seen directed her way, but which all too plainly conveyed don’t bullshit me. “Has anyone ever told you that you’re the worst liar?”

“Yes.” She sighed. “It’s not because of--” She struggled with how to phrase it. “I’m not…”

“It’s okay,” he finally said, sounding defeated. “Thank you for letting me know.”

“Jaime…” She closed her eyes to take a deep breath. “I can’t do this. I can’t sit in a room with you for hours and hours for the next half a year and try to ignore this.” She gestured between the two of them. “I would love to ignore it, trust me. Working with you has given me a new perspective on my work and my place within it. But I can’t, and we can’t.”

She could tell he understood, even if he looked regretful. “Dr. Rollingford,” he said.

“Excuse me?” She blinked at the non sequitur.

“You should choose Dr. Rollingford,” he explained. “He’ll challenge you in a different way. You have different approaches, but he’ll respect your work. I think it would be a good match for you both.”

Brienne nodded, glancing over his shoulder at the window. The blinds were closed. The blinds were always closed since. It wouldn’t matter. It was dark outside, and the only thing to see would be the warm orange glow of street lights breaking through the large oak tree outside Jaime’s office--Dr. Lannister’s office.

“Brienne, please look at me.” She did, and he looked miserable. “I’m sorry I ruined this for you. I’ll miss our sessions.”

“You didn’t ruin it.” She shrugged. “It’s not--neither of us ruined it. I doubt either of us would’ve guessed this from the first meeting.”

“So--”

“So, I have to step away from you, because I know myself and I know I can’t do this if there’s this tension hanging over our heads like a guillotine.”

“I get it,” he said. She reached across the desk, palm up, waiting patiently until he placed his hand in hers. She tried to ignore the way just that warm touch made her chest hurt, and held--gripped--as if trying to imprint the feeling for the future.

She suddenly felt ill-equipped to simply leave a room. He rose when she did, spreading his fingertips out and pressing them to his desktop. Maybe he was unsure too, and somehow that made her feel more sure, not less. At least she wasn’t the only one at sea.

She couldn’t help but worry that if she didn’t go around his desk now, she would never have another chance to touch him, so she did. She went around his desk, and he drew her in, reaching for her hand but letting her step into his body.

She stared at him for a moment before reaching up to cup his cheek in her hand, looking for the unspoken permission in them, and then her mouth was on his, and she felt like she couldn’t catch her breath from the first touch of their lips. She felt delicate, fragile when he was touching her, she who had never felt delicate in her life.

She was the proverbial bull in a china shop, her body seemingly outgrowing her space in the world before her first period. Sometimes it seemed like she was the biggest person alive, no matter how much she knew that wasn’t true.

She broke the kiss, sucking in a gasp of air.

“Brienne,” he said softly, as if only to say her name for the sake of her being there, and pressed his lips to the underside of her jaw in a gentle kiss before taking a step away from her.

She opened her eyes slowly, and somehow he was there. Somehow it was true that she was kissing Jaime, and somehow it all made sense to her even though she knew it didn’t from the outside. He must have seen the confusion in her expression, because he lifted his hand to cup her face once more, tracing his thumb gently over the line of her cheekbone, a soft smile tilting his lips.

She pressed into his touch and murmured, “Jaime.” The name still sounded foreign on her tongue, but the soft pleasure on his face at the sound of it made her feel safe and secure.

They were kissing again, and she had no idea who started it, or if they simply met in the middle, but this kiss had a new intensity. She worried dimly about the coarse texture of his beard on her skin, but then his tongue slid along her own and all she could think and say was a quiet litany of his name. She never wanted to let go and step from the safety of this embrace. It was the last time, and that alone seemed impossible to comprehend, so she held him tighter and savored every second she could, giving herself permission to touch him for the last time, even if it would only ever be this--bodies pressed together, hands questing over clothing, and every noise of pleasure choked in their throats for fear of discovery.

--

Brienne looked up at the knock on her door jamb to find Ygritte standing there. Ygritte always seemed like she was up to no good, or that she was plotting something that may or may not end in someone’s demise.

“What’s up?” Brienne swiveled on her desk chair to face Ygritte.

“I’ll be leaving a couple days early for winter break.”

“Okay?” Brienne blinked.

Ygritte shrugged. “My last final is on the Tuesday before. I need to get the fuck out of this city as soon as possible.”

“I know what you mean.” And Brienne truly did, she missed the clear waters and rolling meadows of Tarth as if someone had carved out a piece of her soul and tossed it away. “I hope you have a good time.”

“Mmm,” Ygritte hummed. “You’re not leaving until that Saturday morning, right?”

“Uh, yeah,” Brienne said slowly, tilting her head in confusion. “I have a final Friday morning and I want an evening to relax before getting on a plane.”

Right, so…” Ygritte gave Brienne a look waiting for her to catch on. She rolled her eyes when Brienne just stared. “So if you wanted to get your fancy man over here and fuck him in your own bed, you could do that without trying to sneak him in and out.”

“It’s not--we’re not--”

Ygritte held up a hand to stop her. “I don’t need any details about your sex life, please. I’m just letting you know. I won’t be here so the apartment will be free. Do as you see fit.”

“Thanks,” Brienne said quietly.

Ygritte just shrugged again and took off down the hallway.

--

Brienne wasn’t going to mention it to Jaime. They had agreed. It was closing in on winter break, and they had one more meeting that she was insistent they keep, as if she needed to prove to herself that things could go back to normal, or that they could at least fake normal for another week. One last week. She could push it to the back of her mind. Ygritte being there or not being there changed nothing about their agreement and nothing about the situation.

She didn’t do that.

Instead she spent half the weekend thinking of how best to tell him without it sounding like--like a booty call, or like she was attempting to seduce him into something they had already agreed couldn’t happen.

Mother, Maiden, Crone.

She knew it was a bad idea. She knew it. But in four weeks she would be working with someone else. After next week, she would have no reason to interact with Jaime. He didn’t teach any of her classes next semester. It would be so much easier to pretend she hadn’t known Ygritte would be gone so far ahead of time. She’d never been the girl in this position. It was all in her control, she knew that, and so she knew when she made the choice, it was her sword they would fall on.

--

She showed up at her normal meeting time, Tuesday, 3:30 pm, and when she did Jaime looked up, eyes widening at the sight of her standing where she always had before. She lifted an eyebrow, stepped through the doorway and shut it quietly behind her.

He opened his mouth but she shook her head, coming to stand right near his desk. “If you don’t let me say this now, I never will.” She took a shuddering breath before she continued, “My roommate is leaving town early. She’s going home on Tuesday next week, not Saturday like I thought. I’m not leaving until Saturday. So.”

“So?” She could see the way his throat tightened when he said, the heat in his eyes that she felt on her skin like flames. He was going to make her say it though. He was going to make her invite him in. She knew why, but gods did she wish he could be a little less honorable.

So, I know--I know we agreed that while I was your student we couldn’t, but--” She forced herself to meet his eyes, even though she was certain he could see the throbbing of her pulse in her throat, and if not, she was surely the same shade as a fresh strawberry swimming in a bowl of cream. “But I won’t be under your advisement next semester. I won’t be in any of your classes. I know we can’t--” She gestured, trying to encompass the idea of something more. She didn’t think she could say it, couldn’t bear to suggest a relationship and be shot down summarily, in the exact way that Jaime could cut her down so unthinkingly sometimes. “But just once.”

“Once,” he repeated, his voice a thick, husky tone she’d never heard before.

“One night,” she said, feeling nearly detached from her body, high on nerves and want.

“And somehow that won’t make the situation worse?” He raised an eyebrow. “Do you doubt my skill so much? You think it’ll be so bad you’ll be able to move on without a second glance?” His serious facade broke, a smile tipping the corners of his mouth when she flushed a brutal, blotchy red.

“Of course I don’t think that. But I think that I might lose my mind if I have to wonder what it would be like.”

“And what if it’s better than either of us could imagine?”

For some reason, that brought a bittersweet smile to her face. “Then I have a vivid fantasy and a bag of vibrating silicone toys to take the edge off.”

His jaw clenched, the muscle a tense ridge over the jut of bone. “Fuck,” he muttered, more to himself than anything. “When?”

“Friday,” she said, her pulse fluttering and heavy. “I leave Saturday afternoon, and my last class is Friday morning.”

“Friday night,” he said, more statement than question.

“Yes,” she said.

He grabbed a post-it, a bright green one, and hastily scribbled something on it before handing it out to her. She took it; it was a phone number. His phone number, she presumed.

“Call me,” he said. “Or text me. Your address and then a time. If you change your mind, all you have to do is let me know.”

--

She didn’t change her mind.

--

The knock at her door, no matter how expected, still gave her a jolt not unlike a bolt of lightning. She opened the door and Jaime was there. He was at her apartment, standing in her doorway, looking better than a fantasy. She stepped aside, pulling the door open, but finding herself strangely tongue-tied as he stepped past her into the living room.

Nothing was ever, or would ever, be as strange as Jaime in her apartment. It was as incongruous as a statue of the Stranger holding a phone. He looked -- it was odd, to see him in jeans and a threadbare t-shirt, no sleeves to be rolled up, or tie jerked askew, just a man with a greying beard and sharp jaw, and a magnetic pull that made her feel like she was about to come unraveled, one tiny snip in a strand of DNA sending her into biological collapse.

Or she was desperately aroused and tired of waiting for a chance to touch him without fear of being caught.

She cleared her throat. “Do you want a beer?” He raised an eyebrow. “Or Ygritte may have left some whiskey. Our fridge is mostly cleaned out, but--”

“Did you ask me over here to drink a beer and watch the game?” he asked with amusement that bordered on laughter.

“No!” She winced. “No, of course not. I only--”

But then he was kissing her, deep and heavy and consuming, his hands gripping and grasping and pulling her closer with no mind as to who might hear them. He was so warm and firm beneath her hands. She clutched his arms for dear life, whimpering as she curved into his body, desperate to somehow be closer to him.

He broke the kiss, leaning just far enough back to say, “Hi.”

She huffed a laugh, breathless from their short embrace. “Hi,” she said and then kissed him again, guiding him out of the entryway and tugging him with her toward her room. It wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be and she backed into the wall next to the hallway with a loud thud.

“You okay?” Jaime murmured.

Brienne hummed in reassurance, pushing them away from the wall and peeling herself away from him. “Come on.” She took him by the hand and led him to her room, closing the door behind them. She turned to lean against it and nearly laughed at the sight. If it was weird to see Jaime in the entryway, it was even weirder to see him in her bedroom. She wasn’t exactly an interior decorator, especially not in an apartment she’s always considered transient. It was easier to move if everything could fit in the trunk of a car.

Still, she couldn’t help the momentary wish that she had the sort of bedroom that could be considered atmospheric instead of functional, but when she’d finished her perusal of her own room, she found Jaime’s eyes once more and the last thing he seemed concerned with was the aesthetics of his surroundings. He stalked over to her; if she didn’t know his purpose, he would look dangerous. Maybe he looked dangerous anyway, if her thumping heart was anything to go by, and she was certainly his prey.

She expected him to kiss her mouth, but instead he kissed her collarbone, his hands slipping beneath the hem of her shirt, and just that small amount of his skin on hers made her moan softly, her hand coming up to weave through the hair on the back of his head. As if trying to shake her to her foundations, one of his hands made its way up her back, the other dipping down so that his fingertips slid beneath the waistband of her jeans. She bit her lip, letting her head fall with a thud against the door.

Jaime placed open-mouthed kisses on her neck, scraping his teeth over the tender skin beneath her jaw. She choked on a whimper, arching against him and slapping her hands against the door to anchor herself.

She shuddered when he leaned in to whisper, “You don’t have to be quiet,” against her ear.

“Oh gods.” She shuddered, leaning down to kissing him headily, turning to walk backwards to her bed, dragging him with her, refusing to break the embrace until her calf bumped against the bed frame. Her hands were cupping his face when he took a half-step back from her, he looked as overwhelmed as she felt, his left hand coming up to wrap around her wrist.

“You’re sure about this?” he asked, his thumb stroking a small flame on the skin over the jut of her hip bone.

She would have rolled her eyes if not for the sincere concern in his, the tight line of his mouth, and worry that creased his forehead. “Are you?” she asked gently. He cocked his head looking at her like she should know better, or was doing it on purpose, an expression she was well familiar with thanks to their many meetings and their productive debates devolving into simply arguing. She rubbed her thumb along his cheekbone and lifted his right hand with her other to bring it to her mouth, kissing along the new, raises pink skin that ran down the outside edge of his hand. “I invited you here, I wouldn’t have done that if I wasn’t sure, but that doesn’t mean you came over here just to fuck me.”

“I didn’t come here only to fuck you,” he said, circling his arm around her waist to jerk her to him. He was already half-hard against her thigh. “But it’s certainly on the list.”

She pushed up his shirt, desperate to get her hands on skin and muscle and the heat of him. He leaned back only far enough to white it over his head and toss it behind him.

Brienne sat on the bed, reaching for the button of his jeans. He started when her hand brushed his cock, his chest rising and falling rapidly. She unzipped him, keeping her eyes on his face, and didn’t look away even as she palmed him through his underwear. His breath shuddered out of him, his eyes nearly wild. She shifted her gaze to his groin, shoving his jeans and boxer-briefs down his hips.

It had been a while since she’d had her hand and mouth on a cock and the last time hadn’t exactly been a banner moment in her life, but she forgot about Tormund and Hyle, couldn’t focus on anything but Jaime and how hard he was for her--her. She wrapped her hand around him, licking a long line from root to tip raising her eyes to stare into his when she wrapped her lips around him.

Fuck.” He laid a hand on her head, brushing the hair back from her face, his thumb stroking the corner of her mouth where it was stretched around him. “Brienne.” He sounded wrecked, his hips juddering. She gripped his ass with her free hand, holding him in place as she moved back and forth, hoping the suction and feel of her tongue swirling around the tip and the stroke of her hand on his shaft was enough for him. If his chanting of her name interspersed with fuckfuckfuck and the rhythmic tightening of his ass beneath her hand was any indication, it was.

“Stop, stop,” he said suddenly.

Her forehead furrowed in concern, worried she had done something wrong. “Did I do something?” she asked, her voice raspy and heavy with arousal.

“Fuck no,” he said, leaning down and kissing her, his tongue sliding between her lips with no care for the fact that she tasted like him and the precome that was still salty-bitter on her tongue. He pulled up on her shirt, tugging it over her head. “Your mouth is not where I imagined coming tonight.”

She whimpered, an annoyingly small, wounded sound. Vulnerable. Needy.

But then he was pressing her back onto her bed, dragging her yoga pants down her legs with her underwear at the same time, no delicate preamble, just need and desire. He slid up her body, his chest hair tickling her from her stomach to her breasts, his mouth taking hers, tongues tangling. He pulled back to look down at her while he thrust against the juncture of her leg and groin. She could see the strain, the way he rested more weight on his left hand, the tremor in his right that he clearly thought he could hide.

She kissed him again, pulling him down until they were pressed together from lips to toes, and shifted her weight so that he turned onto his back. She rolled her hips, hissing at the feel of him firm against her sensitive skin. She flung her head back, her hands coming up to palm her breasts and trace circles over the crest of her nipples, her legs already trembling from the shock of sensation.

He shifted and jostled until he could sit up, nosing one of her hands aside and drawing the tender nipple between his lips, scraping his teeth across it; she gripped his hair, tugging when he kissed his way to the other breast, rubbing his beard across the sensitive bud.

Oh!” she gasped. She pulled his face away from her; he moaned and tried to resist until she pulled harder, and looked up at her with the same sort of desperate need that felt like a reflection of her own soul. She kissed him again, thrusting her hips even harder over his cock.

He broke the kiss, sucking the thin skin over her collarbone. “Fuck,” he bit out. “The condoms are in my jeans.”

“Condoms?” she asked breathlessly.

He tilted his head back to narrow his eyes at her. “Condoms.”

She giggled, a silly gleeful noise, and kissed away the almost petulant look on his face before leaning over to rustle around in the drawer of her bedside table, breathing a relieved sigh when her fingers found what she was looking for.

She sat back on his thighs, tearing through the foil and rolling the condom on him. She braced herself with one hand on the bed beside his head, bit down on her lip, and guided him inside with the other. Her breath caught in her chest at the stretch, it had been a while and no toy could ever quite replicate the feeling of another person, the heat and unpredictable movement of their body.

Jaime’s hand gripped her hip, his fingertips pressing so firm and deep into her flesh that she knew she would have marks, the other anchored around her waist. He seemed content to let her set the pace even though his expression bordered on feral--she couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if he were on top.

“You can fuck me harder,” she said, words coming out in stuttered gasps with every rise and fall of her hips over his.

He rumbled, his chest vibrating against her palm. He moved awkwardly for just a moment, planting his feet flat on the bed so she could lean back against his thighs and then--oh then, he fucked her. She’d forgotten what it was like to tangle with someone who could go toe-to-toe with her, who took her words at face value and trusted her to know what she was about someone who never took his eyes off her face when they fucked--if anything, they bored into her own, holding her there as their hips met over and over in a pounding rhythm.

Jaime,” she moaned, slapping a hand to the wall over their heads to press against something solid and firm, the other desperately trying to hold steady on his chest. She would be thankful later that Ygritte was gone, and that she didn’t know her neighbors enough to care about the noise and the thud of her hand in rhythm with their bodies.

She could feel the beads of sweat trickle down her spine and see the ones that dampened the hair at his temples, his neck was straining, his arm getting even tighter around her waist and she knew without words beyond the strangled exchange of Brienne and oh fuck and gods that he was a lot closer than she was. She slipped a hand between their bodies, her fingertips finding her clit with practiced ease. She whined at the first circle over the hot, sensitive skin, she could feel it coil and pool at the base of her spine, the tingling down through her thighs and down to the tips of her toes. It was so much better this way, so much better with Jaime beneath her and inside of her and grunting and moaning in the crescendo to climax.

He groaned and curved toward her, his hips snapping up and burying his cock as far as it would go while he came. She kept rubbing, dipping down to feel where their bodies were still joined and sliding her fingers back to her clit, curling and circling them so she could frantically stroke until she tipped over the edge, crying out and shuddering, clenching around him and against his stomach, the hair tickling her over-sensitized skin, leaving her with little option except to slam her hand against the wall behind their heads, leaning over him and sucking in desperate breaths and the aftershocks trembled through her.

She whimpered when his mouth found her breast, placing soft open-mouthed kisses, his tongue licking the salty taste of sweat from her skin.

And then he collapsed back down the mattress, lax and languid beneath her. She took a moment to close her eyes and take a deep breath, trying to calm her racing heart even as her muscles still trembled with release.

“Gods,” he breathed beneath her, as if in awe.

She laughed shakily, pushing herself away from the wall and placing both of her hands on his chest, feeling the way his heart still thrummed beneath his ribs. “My thoughts exactly.” She smiled, happy and effervescent, the kind of relaxation in her limbs that nothing else could ever approximate.

“We should do that again,” he murmured, his eyes closed, face blissful. She didn’t laugh, thank the gods, but her silence caught his attention and when he finally opened his eyes, she lifted an eyebrow and couldn’t quite keep the smirk off her face. “Later,” he relented. “I need a moment.”

She did laugh then--it bubbled out of her like sparkling water, clear and fizzy and gentle. She held the condom in place as she moved off of him, stepping off the bed. She slid it off, tied it, and tossed it in the wastebasket under her desk.

“I was going to do that,” he said.

“I know.” She leaned over and kissed him. “I’m going to wash up. Do you want the bathroom first?”

He waved her off. “I think it might be a minute before I’m up for moving.”

She snorted and kissed him one last time before leaving him to his bliss.

--

She was in the middle of cobbling together some sort of post-sex snack when Jaime strolled into the kitchen and came to rest hipshot beside her. His hair was damp and his skin shower-warm, he smelled like her soap, and all she wanted to do was drag him back to bed.

He leaned over to place a soft kiss on her bare shoulder.

“Do you want a protein bar instead?” she asked, laying the apple slices in a fan around the plate. She tossed some squares of cheese in the center, and spooned some peanut butter on the other edge.

“Not if you’re willing to share, they all taste a little bit like dust to me.”

She pushed the plate closer to him and plucked a cheese slice from the center, relaxing at the sharp bite of cheddar, watching Jaime’s hand as he swiped an apple slice through the peanut butter before raising it to his lips and biting it with a soft crunch.

“Do you want me to leave?” he asked gently, his fingertips following the line of her fingers on the counter.

She took a breath and a moment to think about it. There was a different sort of intimacy in sleeping with someone all night, in finding out if they stole all of the covers, or if they became an octopus, all clinging arms and legs. But she wanted to find all of that out, even if it was only for one night. He wasn’t a random hook-up, someone she never needed, nor wanted, to see again. No, he was--well, a bad idea and a man she admired and someone completely out of reach, but there was a twisting, aching warmth when he touched her, and a silly giddy feeling when he smiled at her, and when he kissed her…

“No,” she settled on. “I’d like you to stay.”

He smiled, a slow, lazy one that matched the languid way he moved. “Then let’s go back to bed and I’ll return a couple of favors.” He kissed her and tugged on her hand to pull her with him.

“They weren’t favors,” she mumbled against his mouth.

A puff of laughter on her chin and he said, “We’ll call it a favor for myself, then.”

His favor was very focused on his face between her thighs, her hands wound in his hair pulling so hard it must be painful, and his tongue and teeth teasing her to a screaming orgasm.

And in the wee hours of the morning, he woke her gently, nudging her shoulder, and kissing her shoulder, her neck, her cheek until she blinked her eyes, squinting until he came into focus, backlit by the hallway light.

“I should go,” he whispered.

He should, and yet it still felt like rejection somehow, it still felt like being dumped and left, and she had no one to blame but herself for thinking she could have this one night and then let him go with no regrets.

“I’ll walk you out.”

He watched her as she sleepily dragged on her yoga pants and t-shirt before following him back to the front door. They hesitated and he reached out to tangle his fingers with hers, holding her for just a moment in the dark, leaning in and up to kiss her again, one more time.

“If things were different--” he started, so quietly even she could barely hear it in the silence around them.

“Please,” she interrupted. “Don’t. We can’t--I can’t--things aren’t different.”

He nodded, squeezed her hand and opened the door.

He hesitated one last time on the landing, somehow still too handsome by half in the fluorescent safety lighting. “Take care of yourself and--and have a good holiday break.”

“You, too,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound miserable.

He stared at her for another moment, and with a soft smile, the kind that didn’t quite reach his eyes, turned to walk away.

--

Acknowledgements

To my father Selwyn for his unwavering support and for never failing to believe in me.

To my mother Elinor, and my siblings, Galladon, Arianne, and Alysanne, I miss you every day, but I know how proud you would be.

To Dr. Catelyn Stark for her support and guidance from our first advisory meeting through now. I would not be the woman I am without her influence.

To Dr. Herman Rollingford for his criticism and encouragement, even when I felt under water.

And finally, to Dr. Jaime Lannister for teaching me in one semester the importance of being confident in my work, strong in my character, and how to hold fast to my convictions no matter how hard the road may be.

 

--

 

FIVE YEARS LATER

Brienne couldn’t help but trace her finger over the words: Keynote Speaker, Dr. Brienne Tarth. Every sacrifice, every sleepless hour, every terrible professor and student that discouraged her, none of it mattered when she saw things like her name printed in such an unquestionable acknowledgement of her work.

But first, first she had to make it through the other three days of the conference, including the panel she was even more nervous for, STEM’s Gender Divide: Shattering the Glass Ceiling. She never was able to shake the nerves when her gender became a point of discussion in her career, but she knew not taking part in those discussions would be a disservice to all of the girls and women facing the same challenges she had in her life, the ones who needed women like her to stand up and make themselves heard.

Still.

She forced herself to keep her shoulders back, and her chin lifted, not at all surprised to find that the smaller conference room was filled with women. It wouldn’t be the first time she spoke into a void, or to a group of people predisposed to agreeing with her, instead of the people who needed to be challenged, but what she had to say was important, no matter to whom. It was fine, she managed to keep her voice steady through the presentation and then handled the softball questions lobbed to her in the question and answer session.

And then.

Then.

The last call for questions before the panel was called to a close, someone stood up in the back of the room, a man, and when he turned to face the panel, Brienne’s heart stopped in her chest.

Jaime.

His beard was much greyer than when she last saw him, but his face was the same. Maybe there were a couple of new lines at the corners of his eyes, but it had only been five years -- five years. It felt like yesterday and a lifetime ago. She expected him to smirk, or smile brightly, or--well, she didn’t really know what else to expect, but when he stepped up to the microphone his face was very nearly still.

“Dr. Tarth,” he said, and oh, his voice still shot straight down her spine. “What would you suggest to young women facing more pointed gender discrimination in a one-on-one situation?”

Her response, though rote and practiced, got a small smattering of quiet applause. She didn’t know exactly what she said, only that she couldn’t tear her eyes away from his face, unable to focus on anything except wanting to go to him, panel be damned.

She moved through the end of the panel on auto-pilot, losing track of him in the crowd. Perhaps he’d left; perhaps she’d somehow dozed off and imagined the whole thing. She shook hands and smiled and exchanged business cards with a sea of faces she would never remember.

And when she walked out of the conference room after the crowds had dispersed, he was there, standing across the hallway, leaning hipshot against the wall directly opposite the conference room. She felt as if she was moving through water or heavy snow as she made her way to him. He tipped his head back to look up at her, smiling lazily, his eyes bright and happy and focused on her.

“Jaime,” she breathed, reaching out with a shaking hand to touch his arm, somehow still vaguely surprised when he was firm and warm against her palm.

“Dr. Tarth,” he said, a wicked glint to his gaze as he said it. “Excellent work in there.” She glared and he held up his hands in surrender. “I’m being sincere. You can certainly command a room.”

“Well, I take up a lot of space visually,” she said wryly.

“Good gods.” He rolled his eyes. “Just accept the compliment, if you would. You know how hard-earned they are from this quarter.”

Fine.” She stared at him, eyes tracing all the new lines and grey hairs and somehow it hurt that it felt like time had been stolen from her. “Why are you here?”

His easy expression flickered. “I remember saying that if you were no longer my student, I wouldn’t hesitate.”

“You hesitated for three years,” she pointed out dryly.

“You had multiple offers from schools and industry alike,” he said, his shoulders dropping. “I wanted you to decide independent of anything else where you wanted to be. If I had shown up at your door the night after your successful defense, would you have been able to say for certain that no part of you would’ve considered me?”

She would love to say she wouldn’t have, but she was young and some nights she still dreamt of him and woke sweating and wet, nearly angry as she gave herself some relief with her own fingers. She had the power now, the power to send him away, tell him he was too late, tell him with time and distance she knew that what they were to one another then was simply madness.

“I don’t know what I would have done,” she admitted.

“And now?” he asked, his throat tightening with a heavy swallow.

“Now?”

“Now what will you do?”

He looked at her like he was waiting for a guilty verdict to rain down upon his head. It still felt like half a dream, but in her dreams he was always the Jaime she’d seen turning away from her outside of her apartment, certainly not the man in front of her.

“I’m weighing two options,” she said hesitantly.

“Oh?”

“Yes.” She nodded curtly. “Either we go to dinner and make small talk about work and the weather over nice food and then you come back to my hotel room. Or. You come back to my hotel room now and we order room service as an intermission.”

He cleared his throat. “As a mathematician, I’d say the only rational option here is the shortest distance between two points.”

“Oh?” She tried to look serious; she knew she failed completely. “And what two points are we measuring?”

“The distance between where we are now and the nearest surface where we can do filthy things to one another’s naked bodies.”

She couldn’t help the loud guffaw at that, nor the roll of her eyes. He was lucky he didn’t need to seduce her.

“It’s really the only sensible answer to our problem,” she agreed.

Somehow, they made it into her hotel room without the risk of an indecent exposure charge.

But it was a near thing.