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Shake the frost

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So darlin', will you stay right here
And shake this frost off of my bones?
–Tyler Childers, Shake the Frost

*****

Jaime wraps his cloak tighter around his body and squints into the swirling white expanse around Winterfell. The storm had come on suddenly, as they usually do in this godsforsaken place, but this one seems particularly vicious, the wind and snow like tiny needles piercing his cheeks. He paces the battlements and watches and listens for any indication of her - a dark shape appearing out of the mist, the clanking of armor, any sign that she’s made it back from the ranging expedition she volunteered for this morning. He knows he should be inside and out of the storm himself, but he cannot be in there when she is still out here, so he paces again, stopping to warm his hands on the signal fire every few minutes before peering out into the snow once more.

The longer she is out there with the evening sun dwindling, the faster his heart races, the stronger the sense of panic and dread that sweeps over him. He knows she is stronger and more competent than most of the men here, but even that can’t prevent her from getting lost in the blinding snow or falling into a frozen lake or any number of catastrophes caused by a fierce northern winter storm. He feels helpless here, feels as though keeping watch is the only thing he can do, so that is what he does. He is tamping down another wave of panic when he sees something emerging from the tree line - two dark blobs, their forms coalescing into the shape of two humans the closer to the castle they shamble.

Jaime sucks in a painfully cold breath and runs into the tower, his hood flying off his head as he takes the steps two at a time.

“Open the gate!” he is shouting even before he makes it down the stairs, startling the two men guarding the heavy wooden doors. “Open it!” he yells again. “Rangers returning!” They unbar the gate and push open the huge doors excruciatingly slowly. Jaime waits until a slit opens just wide enough for his body to slip through and he is out into the yard, rushing toward the figure he knows is Brienne despite not being able to see any details through the howling snow. He yells her name and throws his arms around her, bearing her weight when she crumples against him. He turns and half-carries, half-drags her inside, shouting to one of the guards to help the northman who had accompanied her on the ranging.

Once they are inside, he feels the blood drain from his face when he gets a better look at Brienne - her lips are blue, her teeth chattering, eyes unfocused and confused. Violent shivers rack her body and her steps are slow and stumbling. Her cloak is stiff with snow and ice, and there are ice crystals in her eyebrows and eyelashes. Jaime is thankful then for the training Lady Sansa had forced the southern armies to receive before the battle about what to do if someone catches a chill this severe, and he struggles to remember what he’d learned as he hears the wood gates slam shut behind them, blessedly shutting out the biting cold.

Jaime unclasps Brienne’s cloak with shaking fingers and lets it fall heavily to the floor, knowing he needs to get her dry above all else. He racks his brain for any other information he had gleaned from the training, chastising himself for spending most of it daydreaming about sparring with Brienne afterward and whispering jokes into her ear, trying to draw a rare public smile from her.

“We are going to get you warm, wench, but you have to walk with me,” he says gently, letting her lean most of her weight onto him as he ushers her slowly toward her chambers. Their chambers, really – he has stayed there every night since the last day of battle. When they round the corner, Podrick turns from the soldier he is speaking with and spots them, his eyes going wide when he sees Brienne’s condition.

“My lady ser!” he exclaims as he scrambles toward them.

“Podrick, help me!”

Podrick grabs Brienne’s other elbow to assist her down the hall. Jaime's own legs shake with fear, but he forces himself to go on.

Brienne is still shivering, her breathing still quick and shallow, but she’s leaning less on Jaime and her steps are less plodding as they make their way down the hall. Still, he can’t get her into their chambers fast enough – he’s heard far too many stories of people catching chills, falling asleep and never waking up.

As soon as they are through the door, he throws all the remaining wood onto the fire, then helps Pod remove Brienne’s armor, the fingers of his good hand stinging as he works at the cold metal. He and Pod make quick work of it, and when the last gauntlet falls with a thump to the ground, Jaime pulls her gambeson over her head and then reaches for the laces of her tunic.

“Podrick, go get some warm water for her to drink. Not hot, warm. Something to eat too. And bring more furs.” Podrick nods sharply and turns on his heel, running in the direction of the kitchens.

Jaime continues unlacing her tunic and urges her stiff arms up as he pulls it over her head. Brienne crosses her arms back over her chest and turns her head slowly toward him when he begins unlacing his own.

“Jaime,” she says quietly between chattering teeth, “Is this really the time?”

His relief at hearing her voice draws a near-hysterical laugh out of him. He strips his own tunic off and pulls a thick fur off the bed, steering her toward the fireplace. “Do you not remember what the northmen taught us, wench? Skin-to-skin is the best way to get you warm again. And I know you want to lie down, but we need to keep you standing for a while.” He is surprised at how much he is able to recall from the training and doubts he would have been able to had it been anyone but her who needed the help.

Jaime throws the fur over Brienne’s shoulders and presses his chest to hers, hissing when her cold flesh comes into contact with his. She sighs and lets her head droop against his neck when he wraps his arms around her tightly, still shivering, though the clacking of her teeth has quieted some.

Podrick rushes back in with a large pitcher of water, a stoneware mug, a platter of bread and cheese, and a serving girl trailing behind him struggling under a pile of furs so high she can’t see over the top. Pod sets the water and food on the small table in front of the fireplace and helps the girl place the furs on the bed. He shoos her out of the room and turns in the doorway toward Jaime and Brienne. “If you have further need of me...” he says while wringing his hands nervously.

“I will have you summoned. Thank you, Podrick.”

Pod tips his head, leaving the room and closing the door behind him.

Standing chest to chest, wrapped in a thick fur in front of the fire, Jaime thinks it might have been romantic if not for the circumstances. But as it were, he wills his heat to seep into her, wishes he could pull some of the cold from her body into his.

Jaime loosens his grasp on Brienne slightly, and when he’s satisfied she can support her own weight, he pours warm water from the pitcher into the mug and brings it to her lips, wrapping his other arm tightly around her lower back. “Drink, wench. We need to warm your insides too.”

Brienne sips the warm water, tipping her head back to swallow, while Jaime tries and fails to prevent his eyes from trailing down the long, pale column of skin. She tilts her head back up and opens her eyes, focusing them on Jaime for seemingly the first time since she’d come in from the cold. Their blueness and brightness still take his breath away, even after all this time.

“There she is,” he breathes, pressing his forehead against hers, the tension flooding out of his body now that some color is back in her cheeks. He urges her to drink the full mug of warm water, then another. When he is satisfied with the warmth of her skin, he sits her down in front of the fire with the fur still wrapped around her and kneels between her legs to feed her morsels of bread and cheese.

“I can feed myself, you know,” she says, although she willingly takes more bites of food from between Jaime’s fingers.

When the platter is empty, Jaime steers her to the bed, which Podrick had piled up with furs.

“You can lie down now, wench,” he says as he guides her under the furs, then slips in beside her, “but you need to stay awake for a while. Can you do that?”

“If you keep talking to me,” she says, her voice quiet and sleepy, but sounding so much more like herself that Jaime cannot stop the tear at the corner of his eye from rolling down his cheek.

“Have you ever known that to be difficult for me?”

Brienne smiles softly, and Jaime runs his thumb over the space between her eyebrows, the furrow softening at his touch. He wraps his arms around Brienne and pulls her in tight against his body, startling at the coldness of her fingertips on his back, and tucks her head beneath his chin. Though he is already starting to sweat, he pulls the furs up higher to trap his body heat inside.

“You were out there for so long,” he says, tracing his fingertips up and down her spine. “When the storm came on so suddenly, and you did not come back, all I could think was...” He tries to disguise the breaking of his voice with a cough, but Brienne notices because she lifts her head to look at him questioningly. Her strong arms tighten around him, grounding him in the moment.

“All I could think was, I never had a chance to tell her.”

“Tell me what?” Her voice is barely a whisper over the crackling of the fire.

He peers into the deep blue pools of her eyes, his heart racing. “That I love you.”

Brienne’s eyes widen and she sucks in a breath. “Oh, Jaime.” She raises a hand to his face, her fingers just slightly cold now, and strokes his jaw. “When I was out there, and I was blind in the snow, and I felt like I could not take another step, all that kept me going was the thought of you. I knew you were waiting for me, and I had to get back here to you. You kept me alive.”

It is the most she has ever said regarding how she feels for him, and although she shows her feelings in other ways, he knows that putting them into words is difficult for her. He does not expect her to return his sentiment, but when she pulls him in closer and presses a firm, insistent kiss to his lips, he feels it just the same.

When she breaks away, her eyes are wet although no tears spill over, and she places her hand on his heart, feeling it pound in his chest. He tries not to squirm against her when she trails her hand down his chest to the waist of his breeches. “Thank you for taking care of me.”

"You have taken care of me more times than I can count. I am just paying my debts."

Brienne makes an exasperated noise and shakes her head. "Lannisters and their debts. Am I allowed to sleep now?" she asks through an immense yawn.

Jaime laughs softly, his eyes drooping as the worry and anxiety of the day begin to take their toll on him as well. "You must promise me you will wake in the morning." Despite his japing tone, his heart clenches at the thought.

"I promise," she mutters as she burrows into his chest.

"And you must also promise you will not banish me from your chambers for bothering you through the night to ensure you are still breathing."

“That is asking too much of me, ser.” The wry edge to her voice, the droll sense of humor she hides under her morose exterior, is something that surprises and delights him every time she deigns to show it to him.

Jaime pulls her in tight and situates his knee between her legs, ensuring as much of his heat as possible is pressed against her. He drifts off to sleep with the reassuring feel of her breath against his chest, her now-warm arms wrapped firmly around him.

*****

Jaime wakes to Brienne’s hand trailing up and down his spine. He’d removed his breeches sometime in the night, warm as it was in the room and under the pile of furs, and her hand creeps lower to his arse and gives it a squeeze. He had not slept much in the night, rising multiple times to stoke the fire or lower his ear to Brienne’s mouth to listen to her breathing, but despite his exhaustion, his body reacts immediately to Brienne’s hands on him.

Despite being an enthusiastic participant in their couplings, she has never initiated contact like this, but Jaime draws no attention to this fact and simply enjoys the feel of her exploring him. She crawls over him and presses a soft kiss to his shoulder, then a firmer one to his neck, sending a shudder of anticipation through him.

Jaime rolls onto his back and coaxes Brienne on top of him, and for once, she does not protest about being too large or too heavy. She covers Jaime’s body with hers, moans softly into his mouth when his hands roam her skin and fingers ghost across her nipples. One moment they are kissing and touching, and the next he is inside her, their bodies fitting together with an ease both natural and overwhelming.

Despite his insatiable hunger for her, his desire to thrust wildly into her wet warmth, he restrains himself, allowing Brienne to roll her hips on top of him, to dig her fingernails into his chest as she takes her pleasure. When she trembles above him, clenches around him, whimpers her release into his ear, he drives into her once, twice, and pours himself into her.

Brienne collapses heavily on top of him, the relief of her breath in his ear and flushed skin against his nearly unbearable after the fear of the previous night.

She lifts her head after a moment and trains those guileless eyes on him. “Jaime…” she begins, but hesitates, turning away from him in a bashful gesture more befitting of the naive maiden she was when they met.

Jaime tips her chin back toward him. “Yes, my lady?”

“I love you too.”

Jaime’s heart swells in his chest and he cannot stop the wide smile that splits his face. He sits up and wraps his arms around her waist.

“I love you,” he says, peppering her face with kisses. “I love you.”

“I love you,” she answers through an exasperated laugh, and Jaime doubts he has ever heard a sweeter sound. He has spent so long denying the nature of his feelings for her, and when he could not deny it any longer, hiding it as if it were something forbidden. But he no longer needs to hide it, and now that he knows he feels the same, he tells her again and again, overjoyed when she returns the sentiment every time.

Brienne eventually pries herself from Jaime’s grasp to put another log on the fire and peer out the tiny window.

“The storm has stopped,” she observes before slipping back under the covers. “I had best see if Lady Sansa has need of me.”

“Wench,” he protests as he tightens his grasp around her. “You were caught in a snowstorm all day yesterday. I am sure Lady Sansa will understand if you rest for another day.”

“And you would allow me to rest?” she says, an eyebrow ticked up in disbelief.

Jaime presses a hand to his heart. “I shall be on my best behavior.”

“I do not believe you,” she says even as she burrows deeper under the furs and into his arms.

He knows he cannot keep her safe from everything, and this is not the last time she will run into danger to keep her oaths. But right now, they are safe and warm, wrapped in each other’s arms and each other’s love.