Jaime Lannister walked.
Not to anywhere. Not really from anything, either, although when he’d started he’d definitely been walking away from King’s Landing, from Cersei, from all the traces and trappings of his old life, the life he’d never have again.
He’d accomplished that well before he reached the Neck. After that, he was just walking.
Every morning he woke up in his narrow little tent, crawled out of his sleeping bag and broke his fast. If there was a stream or a river or a lake nearby, he washed. Then he packed up his tent and the rest of his gear, stowed it in his backpack and made sure he’d left no trace of himself at his campsite. All of it took far longer than it needed to, than it would have taken him when he still had two hands, but he got it done in the end, every morning.
Then he walked. Past fields and through towns, over bridges and through valleys. Along the Kingsroad when he couldn’t avoid it, ignoring the cars and trucks roaring past. Along country lanes and dirt tracks when he could, where there was no sound but birdsong and his footsteps.
When it started to get too dark for him to reliably find his footing, he stopped, unpacked his gear, set up his tent, started a fire if he was somewhere it was safe to do so. All of it taking far longer than it should have, than it would have.
When he had two hands.
He cooked, he ate, he made sure the fire was out, and he slept. Every day.
Every day the same.
When he’d started, it hadn’t even been a decision. He’d walked out of Tyrion’s front door, turned left, and kept walking. Past the Street of the Sister, through Cobbler’s Square, and out of the Gate of the Gods. That night, he’d slept in a hedgerow, the first night of decent sleep he’d had since it happened. The next morning, passing a roadside café, the smell of frying bacon was appealing for the first time since he’d gotten out of jail.
Someone had snapped a picture of the infamous Jaime Lannister inhaling a fry-up and put it on their socials. That was how Tyrion had found him, in the end: sending Bronn to drive along every road in the vicinity in every conceivable direction until he spotted Jaime.
Tyrion had asked him what in the Seven Kingdoms he’d been thinking, and all Jaime had been able to do was shrug. I have to get away.
So, the tent. The sleeping bag. The maestercard, to buy food and his meds, and to let Tyrion know he was alive and where he was whenever he charged something. A phone, switched off to conserve the battery except for once a week, when he turned it on and ravened Tyrion. Proof of life.
His hair grew. His beard grew. People stopped turning to look at him when he went into a shop or a diner. Instead, they looked away, careful not to make eye-contact. He was no longer Jaime Lannister, the sister-fucking Kingslayer. He was one more homeless itinerant, possibly dangerous, definitely embarrassing. No matter how much his hair and beard grew, his bearing screamed ex-military, which meant he fit right in with all the other veterans sleeping in doorways and under bridges as a collective reproach to the tax-payers of Westeros, one everyone much preferred to look away from. Sometimes some young bravos tried to make themselves look like big men to their friends by heckling, or throwing something, or trying to start a fight. Jaime ignored them as best he could unless they actually went so far as to put their hands on him.
Then they found out that even a one-handed veteran was more than capable of defending himself against pimply youths.
North of the Neck, things changed. There were longer stretches of road without any towns or truck-stops or even any sign of human habitation. When he did reach one, though, people didn’t look away. Not because they recognised him and stared, though. A woman behind the counter of a gas-station shop shoved an extra handful of chocolate bars into Jaime’s shopping bag after the sale was already rung through, added five cans of Red Stallion energy drink, and told him you look like you need it. Passing through Moat Cailin, Jaime was startled when a man locking up his hardware store called him over. The heat’s off till morning, but it’ll stay warm enough for most of the night, if you need a place. In Barrowton, the cashier at the Speedymart refused to take his money. More than my job is worth, which made no sense to Jaime. Crossing the Rills, he woke up one morning to the smell of pipe-smoke and emerged from his tent to find an ancient farmer seated on a tree-stump. You need to come up to the house for a feed, he said, and brooked no argument.
Jaime turned north again, and reached Torrhen’s Square, where a stout matron barrelled out of her front door and demanded he come inside on the instant to assist her. Jaime set his pack down in the hall, straightened the picture in the living room until she professed herself satisfied, and then found himself chivvied into taking a seat on the sofa and plied with more sandwiches than he could possibly eat. When he finally managed to make his escape, she wrapped up the leftovers and sent him off with several days’ worth of meals.
A couple of days after that, a big SUV with black-and-white checks striped down the side drove past him slowly, and stopped just ahead. The Gold Cloaks marked their vehicles in yellow, and the Green Cloaks of the Reach in green, but Jaime knew a police car when he saw one.
He drew level and a slim young man with a long face and dark hair and a giant white dog both turned to look at him. “Can I help you, officer?”
“I thought I might give you a lift,” the copper said.
“And can I say no?” Jaime gave him his sharpest smile. “Just for information.”
The young man smiled, in a way that touched his eyes more than his mouth. “Yes. I’m not trying to arrest you by stealth. But there’s a late spring chill coming, and there’s a shelter in Winterton where you can sleep warm.”
Jaime shook his head. “I can’t sleep under a roof.”
“Then you need to get yourself south. Or some sheep-herder will find you frozen in your tent before long, which I’d rather not happen to you or to them.”
“I can’t go back,” Jaime blurted without meaning to.
“Mmm.” The young man studied him. “Well, then, you’d best get in. There’s one place north of the Neck that might suit you tonight, but you won’t reach it on foot.”
“And will your dog refrain from eating me?”
The man smiled again. “If you refrain from attempted murder.”
Jaime opened the back door of the SUV and slung his pack in. “I think I can commit to that.”
“I’m Jon,” the young man said as Jaime climbed into the vehicle.
The place that might suit turned out to be a Godswood, sheltered by tall stone walls and warmed by hot springs steaming in the chill air. A woman with auburn hair and soft blue eyes brought him a slice of rabbit pie as he set up his tent.
It was cold that night, despite the warmth of the pools. The next morning, Jaime had to admit that the tent and the sleeping bag Tyrion had bought him, however expensive, were no match for the North. Maybe in summer, but not in spring.
He turned south again, back through the Neck, past Oldstones and Fairmarket, along the Green Fork. Skirting around King’s Landing, he followed the Kingsroad until he found himself standing on a dock looking at a huge ferry.
He got on, charged the ticket so Tyrion would know where he was, and sat out on the deck while a cold wind whipped his shaggy hair and salt-spray dampened his wild beard. The ferry pitched and rocked over the choppy waves until it reached a long thin jetty in a precarious harbour.
“Where is this?” Jaime asked the woman next to him as they queued for the gangplank.
She looked at him as if he’d just asked what century it was. “Tarth,” she said after a moment. “You’re on Tarth.”
Tarth was green. Green, and soft, and so beautiful that Jaime found himself, at least once a day, just standing still and staring. At deep lakes whose surface was so still they reflected the sky back to it in perfect detail, at rivers that made their way down from hidden springs deep in the soaring mountains, falling from cliff to cliff in a series of breathtaking waterfalls that sent spray high enough to raise rainbows. There were vales, tucked within the mountains, so shadowed and mysterious they seemed only partly within the world of men, and pastures flecked with fluffy white sheep, radiant white against the rich green grass.
Tarth in summer was warm during the day and just cool enough at night for him to sleep comfortably, with the flap of his tent open so the last thing he saw before he slept was the stars, bright and brilliant above him. There was nowhere particularly far from a rill or a stream where he could strip off and splash himself clean, rinse his clothes and stretch them over a bush to dry. He walked still, every day, but he started later and finished earlier. When he found a sheltered spot between two rocks overlooking Edwyn’s Point, he stayed three days, staring out at the white-capped waves, and might have stayed longer if he hadn’t needed to get back to the apothecary and the grocery store in Morne.
He bought more food, he filled his prescriptions, he walked back past Evenfall and up to Dreamfrye point. There was a small hollow that provided some shelter from the wind whipping off the Narrow Sea, and Jaime set his tent up there. There were no trees nearby, so the next morning he walked an hour back down the road and gathered enough sticks and twigs to fill his pack.
And the next day, and the day after, and the days after.
He still slept well, even if all the walking he was doing was the occasional trip to replenish his stock of firewood, staring up at the beautiful sky and picking out the constellations until his eyes closed. Sometimes, sitting by his campfire, he fancied he could smell sand and spices on the wind from Essos, like the song. Surprisingly, he found himself humming it at odd moments, the first time he’d sung since the last time he’d sung. The wind is in from Essos, and last night I couldn’t sleep …
Oh you know it sure is hard to leave here, but it’s really not my home.
It was an old song, that was all, something he’d heard on the radio, stuck in his head and brought back by the city lights he could see glowing faintly against the dark sky every night across the starlit sea. The wind is in from Essos, and last night I couldn’t sleep …
He could sleep, though, despite the wind being in from Essos, he could sleep deeply and dreamlessly and wake refreshed, even if the only walking he was doing each day was down the road to gather fuel for his campfire. The rest of the day he sat and looked at the sea and the sky and found shapes in the clouds, shapes of dragons, of horses, of swords …
When his food began to run low, he left his tent set up and hiked back to Morne. The apothecary told him his scripts had expired, but it had been almost a year, after all, and he was feeling so much better than he had in those first grey days when they’d let him out of the hospital, so he shook his head when the apothecary offered to direct him to the local maester’s office. He went to the grocer’s and bought enough canned food and flour and salt and dehydrated ready-to-eat meals to fill his pack, and set out back to his campsite.
He was halfway there when a battered truck pulled up beside him. The driver, a huge old man with white hair and a white beard that would have been right in place in the Brotherhood Without Banners, leaned out of the window. “Hey, Walking Man!”
Jaime stopped. In his experience, it wasn’t generally a good thing when complete strangers accosted you. On a city street, or even in the Crownlands, he might have ignored it, walked on, hoped to get to somewhere more populated before things escalated. Not here. He was an hour at least away from any house. Well, if he wants to start trouble, I won’t go down without a fight. He let his pack down from his shoulders and set his feet. “Hey, Driving Man.”
“Selwyn,” the driver said. “Me, not you, unless you’re also a Selwyn.” He chuckled. “Which would be quite the coincidence.”
“I’m not a Selwyn.” Jaime kept his weight on the balls of his feet. “How can I help you, Selwyn?”
“You’re camping up at Dreamfyre point at the moment, yes?” Jaime nodded, and Selwyn grinned. “Well, I can give you a lift as far as Evenfall, Walking Man. If you’d like.”
Jaime hesitated, and then hoisted his pack. “Is that your land, up there?” Selwyn nodded. “So is it a problem, ser, me camping up there?”
“No,” Selwyn said firmly. “I can categorically tell you, it isn’t.” He leaned over and opened the passenger door. “Get in, son. Let me save you a few miles.”
The song is an adaptation of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Carey’ which you can listen to
Chapter 3: Brienne I
A family dinner.
Brienne parked, carefully, respecting the fact that her father had trusted her with the good truck for the first time today. You’re going up to the high pastures, I’m going to the store, he’d said, handing her the keys. It only makes sense, Sunflower.
She turned off the engine and got out, walking around the truck to scrutinize every inch of it. Not a scratch. A bit muddy, though, so she fetched a bucket of water from the garden tap and a cloth from the barn. When she was through, the truck was spotless.
Still, she lingered, as the day began to fade into evening. The lights were on in the kitchen, and she could hear Alysanne chattering away, her father’s voice rumbling in reply, Galladon interjecting occasionally. Alys would be cooking, something delicious, Gall trying to steal a bite or two, Selwyn at the kitchen table updating the planner with what had been done today and what needed to be done tomorrow. Once, Brienne would have hurried across the yard to join them in the warm, bright space that their family made.
Before this year. Before her father’s eyes filled with worry and guilt and shame for her every time he looked at her, before every moment Brienne didn’t keep a smile plastered on her face made Alys ask if she was alright. Before.
Before the silent and shuttered east wing of Evenfall Hall was a grim reminder of how thoroughly her own stupidity had shattered all her hopes and dreams and plans, back when it was a daily inspiration, when her imagination painted it open and bright and filled with guests.
She took a deep breath and made herself smile. Can’t stay here all night, after all.
“Hello, you lot,” she said cheerfully as she pushed open the door, taking as long as possible to take off her boots in order to give everybody else time to arrange their faces. “Dad, not a mark or a spot on the truck.”
“Of course not.” Selwyn chuckled. “You’re a better driver than me, Sunflower.”
“I don’t see how that’s possible, given you were the one who taught me.” She dropped a kiss on his forehead. “That smells great, Alys.”
Her younger sister, the one everyone called the pretty one, shot Brienne a quick smile. “It’s chicken.”
“Delicious chicken,” Gall corrected, wrapping Brienne up in a bear hug. “How’d you get on?”
“Fine. I found Seasmoke, Dad, he’d just got out again. I checked him over, but I think he’s fine, no cuts or anything, and he was certainly feeling well enough to lead me a merry dance.”
“That ram’s more trouble than he’s worth.” Gall tried to steal a scrap of chicken from the pan and Alys whacked his hand with her spoon.
“You’re more trouble than you’re worth, and we still keep you,” Selwyn said. “And his lambs are top-grade.”
“And I’m the one who gets sent to catch him,” Brienne pointed out.
“I’ll go next time,” Gall said.
Selwyn shook his head. “You will not, you’ll bog yourself at Rhaena’s Ford and one of us will have to lose a whole day to come and pull you out.”
“That was one time!”
Brienne laughed. “I distinctly remember more than one time, Gallygoo.”
He scowled theatrically at her. “One time at Rhaena’s Ford.”
“There’s a point,” Brienne admitted.
“Not a very good one, though.” Selwyn shuffled his papers together and put them back in their battered box. Brienne went to the cutlery drawer and started picking out knives and forks. “Oh, Sunflower, guess what? I met Walking Man today.”
“Where?” Giving up on the futile attempt to find four sets of cutlery that all matched each other, Brienne settled for four sets that matched themselves, and started setting the table. “I thought you were just going to the store.”
Walking Man, the name they’d given the tall and shaggy stranger who’d appeared one day, with battered boots and a well-worn backpack. Strangers didn’t come to Tarth, and the sudden arrival of Walking Man had been the subject of much discussion in shops and bars and around kitchen tables right across the island, not least because it was clear even with the beard that he was extraordinarily handsome. It was rapidly apparent that Walking Man preferred to be left alone – he didn’t even stop in Morne on his way through, didn’t approach any farmers to offer a day’s work for a meal or for dragons – and that was something the people of Tarth respected, so the debates continued in a vacuum of knowledge. Does he need help? What would be the best way to find out? Maybe someone should take some food and things and just politely leave it near his campsite with a note? It should be Sam, shouldn’t it, in case he might happen to need a maester?
Then Walking Man put in an appearance in Morne, bought food with a black maestercard, bought something at the apothecary that everyone knew better than to ask Endrew about but speculated endlessly on in private. Endrew did tell them that Walking Man was polite, if reserved, and as – Luceon from the grocer put it – not some crazy.
Give him his peace and quiet, Selwyn had advised, when the topic came up at that month’s Tarth council meeting. He’s on our land, after all, we’ll keep an eye out for him and make sure he doesn’t get himself into any trouble.
So Walking Man had become part of the daily jobs shared out by Selwyn among the four of them each morning over breakfast. Brienne, or Galladon, or Selwyn himself, would make sure to drive by the spot Walking Man had chosen, up on Dreamfyre Point, every day. Sometimes, from a distance, they saw Walking Man himself, gathering firewood or sitting by his tent. Sometimes all they saw was the smoke from his campfire. Brienne herself made sure to make her drive-bys first thing in the morning or last thing in the afternoon, when it was most likely Walking Man would be making himself something to eat, and she could wind down the window, smell the odour and reassure herself that he was at least alright enough to keep himself fed. She’d never seen Walking Man up close enough to verify for herself if the stories of his fabled beauty were true. And I never want to.
“I did just go to the store,” Selwyn said as Alys began to spoon her chicken dish over pasta. “So did Walking Man. I saw him on the way back and gave him a lift.”
“I thought you wanted us to leave him be.” As always, Gall started eating the second the food was in front of him.
“Giving a man a lift is not pestering and plaguing him with curiosity,” Selwyn said. “And I thought it was time he knew he was welcome to stay, and that there’s help here if he needs it. Or wants it.”
“Who is he?” Alys sat down at the last place. “Where is he from? How did he lose his hand? How long is he staying?”
“I don’t know, to any of those questions. He didn’t volunteer, and I didn’t pry. He did tell me that his name is Jaime.” Selwyn picked up his fork. “This is amazing as usual, Tulip.”
“You must have found out more than that,” Alys said.
“I might have surmised a few things.” Selwyn took a heaping mouthful and chewed slowly, eyes twinkling as Alys fidgeted with impatience. He swallowed. “He’s right-handed, which must make it hard for him now. He lost that hand less than a year ago, going by what I saw of the scars. He’s ex-military, that I’m certain of. Active service, too, I’d say.”
“That means Lhazar,” Gall said, although given his mouth was full it came out at mens zar. Everyone was quite used to translating Galladon-at-mealtime, though.
Brienne nodded. “He’s too young to have served in the Qohori War.
“Do you think he did one of those war-crimes they hushed up?” Alys asked. “Is that why he’s … well, how he is? The guilt?”
Selwyn shrugged a little. “Not having a glass candle, I couldn’t say. He didn’t strike me as particularly wracked with guilt, though you can’t always see it in a man’s eyes. Very angry, that I could see, and bitter.”
“I’d be bloody bitter if I lost a limb,” Gall said. “Bloody angry, too.”
“Dad …” Brienne poked at her meal. Everyone except Brienne loved Alysanne’s chicken-and-tomato dish, so Brienne had to pretend to love it as well, because Alys wouldn’t cook it if she knew there was something in the combination of textures that turned Brienne’s stomach. “How could you tell he was ex-military?”
“He called me ser,” Selwyn said.
Gall snickered. “That could just have been respect for your great age.”
“Or the fact that he’s the Evenstar,” Brienne said tartly.
“I’m pretty sure he has no idea who I am outside of a nice old man in a beat-up truck.” Selwyn scraped his plate clean. “And given his accent, he’s well-enough educated to know to call me my lord if he did know. No, no-one uses ser in ordinary conversation unless they’ve served.”
“Have some of mine, Dad.” Brienne pushed her plate towards him. “I got to my lunch late. And how could you tell he saw active service?”
“Thanks, Sunflower.” Her father took her plate and began to apply himself to it. “I can tell he saw active service because I had to remind him to put his seat-belt on. The only people in this day and age who forget seatbelts exist are fools – and he’s not patch-faced – and people who have spent a lot of time in situations where the risk of going through the windscreen is outweighed by the risk of taking one second longer in getting out of a vehicle.”
“Maybe that’s how he lost his hand,” Alys suggested. “Forgetting to wear a seat-belt.”
“If that was the case, he’d probably doubly remember now,” Brienne pointed out. “Anyway. It really is none of our business, is it, unless he wants to tell us?” She got up and went to fill the sink with warm water and suds. “I’ll check on him tomorrow, if you want, Dad. I thought I might go up and see to those fence-posts Fat Endrew told us about, and that’s near there.”
Selwyn nodded. “Good idea, Sunflower. But I’ll need the good truck tomorrow, Durwald is having the argument with Durran over the boundaries again, I have to go up to Parchments View and settle them down before it comes to blows.”
“That’s fine, Dreamfyre’s an easy drive.” Brienne began to wash the plates. “Gall, get off your arse and come dry up.”
Grumbling good-naturedly, not because he really minded but because he always pretended to, Gall did. “I’m going into Morne tonight,” he said. “Wendel’s playing at The Fish and Fry, if you want to come, Bri-bear.”
“It’ll be fun,” he wheedled. “You’ll enjoy yourself. You never go out any more, it’s not good for you.”
She plunged the next plate into the soapy water with enough force to splash her shirt. “I never go out any more and we all know why.”
There was a moment of utter silence before Gall tried again. “It was ages ago, Bri, honestly no-one even remembers –”
“I remember!” she snapped.
“Drop it!” If she turned around, Brienne knew, she’d see her father looking at her sadly, Alysanne’s brow creased with concern. Her eyes burned and her throat felt hot and swollen. Why did Gall have to go and ruin everything?
“Sunflower,” her father said gently.
Brienne grabbed the tea-towel from Galladon and dried her hands. “Finish the dishes yourself,” she told him. “I’m going to bed.”
Chapter 4: Brienne II
The Walking Man and the Evenstar's Daughter.
Given she already had her jobs for the day, Brienne slipped out of Evenfall Hall just as dawn was beginning to consider breaking with a clear conscience. She was getting an early jump on the day, that was all, and if that meant she didn’t have to face anyone over the breakfast table, well, that was just a lucky side-effect of her diligence.
There was no sign of life at Walking Man’s campsite – Jaime’s campsite, she reminded herself – when she drove past, but given the sun was not even properly up, that wasn’t surprising. She drove on to the fence Fat Endrew had phoned her dad about, and discovered he was absolutely right about the fenceposts. They’d seemed to have come through the previous winter’s storms perfectly fine, but clearly there’d been enough soil washed away to weaken their hold on the earth, and they were now sagging like a row of drunks without a bar to prop them up.
She took her tools and the new posts out of the back of her truck, and went to work.
There was something soothing in hard, physical work, Brienne always found. She dug out the old posts, hauled them to the truck and hoisted them into the tray, sank new holes and wrestled the new posts into place, then restrung the barbed wire. By the time she was done she was drenched in sweat and aching all across her shoulders, but at peace. Gall didn’t mean any harm. He doesn’t understand, but he didn’t mean any harm. Dad’s not ashamed of me, he’s just ashamed for me, and that’s different. And if Arianne is as talented as those teachers at her fancy mainland school say, she’ll be more than able to make enough money for us to keep Evenfall Hall going. Ari’s last letter had been filled with plans and schemes – and had included a clipping from the student newspaper about Ari Tarth’s starring role in the school’s football win. Maybe she’ll be a sports star. Maybe she’ll –
Brienne’s stomach rumbled, reminding her that she hadn’t eaten since the muffin she’d sneaked from the kitchen as she grabbed the lunch Alys had packed for her the night before. I’ll go and check on Walking Man, on Jaime, she decided. There was a nice view from Dreamfyre point, she could park up in the shade cast by the big rock everyone called Cameron’s Cock because, from a certain angle, it distinctly resembled an erect penis. She could eat her lunch and keep an eye out for Walking Man at the same time.
In fact, she didn’t need to keep an eye out for him: when she stopped the battered old truck in the shade, he was clearly visible, sitting in the sun staring out to sea. Good. She opened the lunchbox and discovered two thick roast lamb sandwiches, slathered with butter and chutney. Her favourite, and Alysanne’s way of telling her how bad she felt for her big sister’s troubles. We didn’t even have any left-over lamb in the fridge. She must have done a leg special, after I stormed off.
Brienne applied herself with a will, closing her eyes in appreciation of the tender lamb and Alysanne’s delicious chutney. Some of her sister’s culinary experiments over the years had been unusual, as Selwyn always tactfully said, but Alys had definitely mastered the art of pickling. Maybe I should suggest she starts making it to sell. Mainlanders pay stupid money for things like –
A sharp rap on the window startled her into dropping the sandwich in her lap. Cursing, Brienne turned.
And found herself looking straight into the face of Walking Man.
The first thing she noticed was that his eyes were the most brilliant shade of green she’d ever seen, green enough to make her think he wore tinted contact lenses if she hadn’t known he lived in a tent and washed in a stream.
The second thing was that all the people who’d described him as handsome or good-looking had fallen well short of the mark. Walking Man looked like the Warrior made flesh, all leashed power and beauty and blazing gold hair and beard.
The third thing she noticed was that he was absolutely, incandescently, furious.
She wound down the window a little. “Hello?”
“Are you fucking stalking me?” he snarled, and yes, her dad had been right, he was well-spoken, but Endrew the apothecary had been dead wrong. Walking Man was not at all polite.
Brienne felt her own temper rising. “I’m eating my lunch. Which must have been clearly obvious to you before you banged on the window.” She picked the scattered remains of her sandwich off her jeans, putting them back in the lunchbox.
He made a scoffing noise. “You just happened to be eating your lunch by my tent the day after the old man just happened to be following me back from Morne.”
Brienne opened the door, forcing him to step back, and got out of the truck. Walking Man’s jaw dropped as she unfolded herself to her full height. “Gods be good, you’re a giant!”
“First of all,” Brienne said as calmly as she could, when what she really wanted to do was punch Walking Man in his stupid bearded face, “This is our land. You really can’t accuse a person of stalking when all she’s doing is quietly eating her lunch on her own property. Secondly, the only grocer on the island is Luceon, in Morne, and it may surprise you but we also need to eat and therefore need to go to Morne and my dad was shopping. Thirdly –”
“How long is this fucking list?”
“As long as I want to make it!” Brienne snapped. “Thirdly, you probably have seen us around from time to time, because this is our property and we work it, and we’ve taken precious time out of our days this past month to swing by and check on you –”
He scowled up at her. “I never asked you to!”
“You’d be fucking grateful we do if you fell and broke your leg!” she shot back. “I know you want to be left alone, we all know, and we’ve been leaving you alone, but there’s cliffs and rocks and rivers and accidents, so you can just grit your teeth and get over us making sure you’re still alive every now and then! How do you think my sixteen-year-old sister would feel, knowing that you’d fallen and hurt yourself and starved to death a few miles from her bedroom window?”
Walking Man paused, the anger in his face softening a little. “That’s an admirably low blow, Giant. Is that all your list?”
“One more thing.” She glared at him. “The old man, as you called him, is Selwyn Tarth, the Evenstar, and I am his eldest daughter.” Rank was not something anyone on Tarth generally put much stock in, but Walking Man was a mainlander and Brienne was so very angry any weapon she had was one she was willing to use. “I am not a giant, I am a highborn lady, so mend your manners and call me by my name!”
The corner of his mouth twitched up, just visible through his beard. “I don’t know your name.”
That, Brienne had to admit, was a fair response. “Brienne. My name is Brienne.”
“Lady Brienne.” He inclined his head a little. “Ser Jaime, at your service.” He took a deep breath. “Might we start again, Lady Brienne?”
“Brienne is fine.”
Jaime raked his fingers through his hair. “Brienne. I have an abominably short temper and very little tolerance for company. When I saw your father’s truck parked beside Cock Rock –” Brienne snorted, and Jaime sighed. “Alright, let me start again. When I saw your father’s truck parked beside this unusually shaped rock –”
“No,” Brienne said. “It’s just that’s what we call it, too. Not Cock Rock, though, we call it Cameron’s Cock.”
“Cameron’s Cock Rock,” Jaime countered. “Cameron’s Shocking Cock Rock?”
Brienne felt herself smile. Really smile, not just because she had to put the expression on so no-one would worry about her or feel sorry for her. It felt so strange she reached up to touch her lips. “Cameron’s Shockingly Pocked Cock Rock.”
“Cameron’s Shockingly Pocked Cock Rock now in stock!” Jaime declared. Brienne chuckled, and he smiled, and gods be good it was a beautiful smile that changed his whole face. “Am I forgiven? Because I really don’t want to be evicted.”
“Even if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be evicted,” Brienne assured him.
He raised his eyebrows. “So you let people shout at the daughter of the hall, call her names, and don’t throw them into the sea?” Brienne shook her head, and Jaime’s eyebrows went higher. “Why not?”
“Well, throwing people in the sea is technically illegal,” Brienne said, and Jaime laughed. “And you’re not hurting anything or anyone. You’re not poaching our lambs, or stealing from the out-buildings.” She shrugged. “You’re minding your own business, and everyone has a right to do that. And I can understand wanting to be on your own, I can, except you do need to accept that we’re going to keep making sure you haven’t fallen in a hole or hit your head on a rock or … whatever.”
“Is it going to be you doing it, then? Every day?”
Brienne shook her head. “Whoever’s nearest.”
“Shame,” Jaime said softly.
“Well, if it’s my brother Galladon he has a nice line in cock jokes too. Dad might too, but he has old-fashioned ideas about what it’s suitable to talk to your daughters about, so I’m not sure.” She shrugged. “I’ll tell them not to park this close, don’t worry. You might see one of the trucks on the road, that’s all.”
Jaime studied her. “Why did you park so close? Wanting a good view of the Wild Man of Tarth?”
Brienne snorted. “You’d have to do a fair bit more to qualify for that title. Cerwynth down at Wrathview has a beard down to his knees and generally gets about in the altogether.”
“Something to aspire to, then,” Jaime said. “It’s always good to have a goal in life. But you didn’t answer my question.”
Brienne shrugged. “It’s a nice view. I wanted to park in the shade, and eat my lunch.”
“Which I ruined.”
Brienne shrugged again. “I still have one whole sandwich and the other is just a bit … deconstructed.” She paused. “Do you want some? Of the whole sandwich, I mean, not the one that’s in bits.”
His scowl reappeared. “I might live in a tent but I’m not indigent.”
“Well I wasn’t offering because I think you’re starving!” Brienne snapped. “I was offering because Alys makes amazing chutney and I was being nice.”
Jaime stared at her for a heartbeat. “Fuck,” he said at last, wheeling away from her. “Fuck. Brienne. This is what I’m like, do you see, this is what I’m like now. You should get the fuck away and stay the fuck away from me, because this is what I’m like, now.”
“Jaime,” she said tentatively. “It’s not –”
He spun back around. “Just fuck off!” he roared at her.
So she did.
Chapter 5: Jaime III
Everything is entirely Brienne's fault.
Jaime felt like shit.
The two separate selves inside of him were at war again, in a way they hadn’t been since he’d walked out of Tyrion’s house and just kept walking, and it made his stomach churn. All because of that stupid bloody giant of a woman.
The part of him that could remember watching cartoons with Tyrion, that had given a hand up during basic to others in his unit and accepted the same in return, that part was really fucking appreciative that the Tarth family had decided to ensure his safety and give him his privacy at the same time. That Brienne Tarth, she of the astonishingly blue eyes, had managed to look past his foul temper and worse manners and offer to share her lunch with him.
But the other part, the part that he’d managed to tame into hibernation by walking, and walking, and walking, the part that was all anger and hatred and the overwhelming need to hurt, wanted to kill her. How fucking dare she? How fucking dare she assume that what might happen to him was any of her business, how fucking dare she forgive him for what he said to her, how fucking dare she presume he was the sort of person who was worth offering a sandwich to?
And how fucking dare she look at him with such dignified anger, tall and strong and bright as the Maiden in Tarth’s midday sun, and then let him make her smile?
Tarth’s evening cool failed to materialise. Jaime flung off his sleeping bag and was still roasting. He tossed and turned, unable to focus his eyes on the constellations wheeling above. His stomach clenched and churned, his heart did its best to beat its way out of his chest. How fucking dare she? And, sure, he shouldn’t have stayed in the same place for so long, shouldn’t have relied on the feeling of peace and ease the starry skies of Tarth gave him each night and the sight of the wave-capped Narrow Sea gave him each day. That’s on me. But he’d been fine until Lady-fucking-Brienne rocked up in her beat-up truck to eat her sandwich with a positively obscene expression of enjoyment.
And he couldn’t help wondering just how good that amazing chutney really was, which only made him angrier.
As soon as there was even a hint of light, he got up and pulled on his boots. A mug of tea did nothing to settle either his stomach or his nerves. I should just break camp, find somewhere else, somewhere bloody Brienne can’t find me or won’t bother to look. The prospect of fumbling through the process one-handed was, however, profoundly unappealing. Tomorrow. I’ll move tomorrow.
Today I’ll walk.
Jaime deliberately chose the exact opposite direction of Evenfall, setting out along the path that traced the top of the cliffs. The wind was chill, but the exertion warmed him. He settled into an easy rhythm, the crunch of his boots on the track punctuating the rush and roar of the waves below and the cries of the gulls searching for their breakfast. When the sun rose, he turned inland so it wasn’t in his eyes, following a fence-line that, he hoped, marked the edge of the Tarth’s lands. He walked until his knees were trembling and then he sat down beside one of Tarth’s limpid streams for the length of time it took for him to finish and refill his canteen and went on. He walked until his hands were shaking and his heart pounding and only turned for home when the sun was low in the west.
He was stumbling in the moonlight by the time he reached his tent, so tired he had to force himself to eat, spooning up cold baked beans straight from the tin.
Not, as it turned out, tired enough to sleep. He lay in his tent, staring up at the night sky through the open door, cursing Brienne Tarth. She barges in on me, shatters my peace, claims to be checking on my welfare, and where fucking was she today? Nowhere, nowhere in sight, that’s where. If I’d fallen in the dark I’d still be lying out there, for all she cares. It was all bullshit, just an excuse for her to come and gawk at the one-handed wonder. By the time dawn began to lighten the sky, his teeth were clenched so tightly his jaw ached. Relieved to have an excuse to not try and lie still any more, Jaime crawled out of his tent, intent on brewing himself a mug of tea.
The motion sent such an acute spasm of nausea through him, though, that he found himself on his elbows and knees by the cold remnants of his campfire retching up everything he’d eaten the night before. His trembling limbs gave way and he landed face down in his own vomit. Fuck. With an effort worthy of Wun-Wun the Giant, he managed to roll over, and then over again, so he was face down and unlikely to choke, with only soft green grass beneath his face.
Then he just lay there, occasionally shivering, more often burning. Perhaps not entirely the fault of Brienne the brute, after all. One of the tins he’d bought from the grocer in Morne was spoiled, clearly. Jaime wrapped his arms around his stomach and curled up around the pain and the spasms and waited for it to pass.
Some time later – he didn’t know how long, time had stopped meaning anything beyond one heartbeat, another heartbeat, one more heartbeat – he realised he desperately needed to relieve himself. He managed to raise himself on one elbow, trying to remember where the shovel was, and then his arm gave way and he was face down in the grass again and his bowels were voiding uncontrollably. Fuck. I’m really sick.
He’d seen men come close to dying of dysentery in Lhazar, or of botulism, or of even ordinary food poisoning. Half of him longed for one of Brienne’s giant family to come and find him. Half of him felt it was entirely fitting that he die like this, face down with his pants full of his own shit.
That half was strong enough to keep him from fighting the exhaustion that weighed him down, from crawling back into his tent no matter how hard it would be, to finding his phone and turning it on and calling 337. We all die, after all. And is there any way more fitting for a man like me to do so?
“Oh, no.” A voice he didn’t know, a young man. Fingers touched his neck, gentle and certain. A medic, Jaime knew instantly. A maester. “I’ve got a pulse. Bring my bag, quickly, please, if you don’t mind.”
Running footsteps. “What’s wrong with him?” And that was Brienne, Big Brienne, Bright Brienne. “Can you help him?”
“I can. You said his name is Jaime?”
“That’s what he told me. And Dad.”
“Jaime,” the maester said. “I’m going to give you a shot, and then we’re going to get you in the car and take you down to Evenfall Hall. Do you understand?”
Jaime gathered himself. “Can’t,” he managed to say. “Not under a roof.”
“I can’t care for you here. We can work something out that suits you, but I need to give you a shot, and we need to get you somewhere where I can take proper care of you.”
“Jaime.” Brienne put her hand on his shoulder, shockingly warm against his chilled skin. He trembled at her touch. “Jaime. We’ll find something, we’ll work something out. But you need to let Sam give you the shot.”
“Can’t stop him,” Jaime mumbled against the grass.
“I do really need your consent,” Sam said. “Just nod, if it’s hard to speak.”
Jaime considered. He could refuse, and lie here, and die under Tarth’s brilliant blue sky, and that, all things taken into account, would be a better end for one such as him than he deserved.
But then there was Brienne. How do you think my sixteen-year-old sister would feel, knowing that you’d fallen and hurt yourself and starved to death a few miles from her bedroom window? And how would that blue-eyed giant who’d offer to split her own lunch with him feel, if he shook his head and made her sit by as he surrendered to the Stranger?
“Fine,” he said. “Go on.”
Surprisingly, the needle barely hurt, at least compared to some of the shots he’d had in the service. Almost immediately, the agonising cramps in his stomach began to ease. A moment longer and he was no longer hot, no longer cold.
“How do you feel?” Sam asked gently.
“Very fucking tired,” Jaime said, and closed his eyes and let the whole world go away.
Chapter 6: Jaime IV
Jaime learns a little more about his blue-eyed giant
Angst forecast: mild, with some showers
When the world came back, he was in a bed.
That would have been startling enough, but it was a very pink bed. The bedspread stretched over him was pink, the wallpaper was pink with deeper pink roses, when he raised his head he could see that the ruffles around the base of the mattress were pink as well.
He flopped back down onto the pink pillows. Seven Hells, even the ceiling is pink.
On the upside, he didn’t feel as sick as before. There was a lingering nausea in his guts, but no fever, no cramps. And he was clean – someone had washed him and, he discovered when he raised the blankets a little, dressed him in pyjamas. Pink pyjamas festooned with cartoon cats.
So maybe I am still actually delirious.
The door opened, revealing a teenage girl who was tall and fair-haired and quite pretty. And also, in Jaime’s opinion, altogether too young to be alone in a room with an adult man in his pyjamas. “Hi,” she said. “I’m Alys. I wondered if you might like something to eat? Some soup, or a sandwich …?”
“Alys.” Jaime blinked at her. “Alys of the amazing chutney.”
She blushed prettily. “I do make chutney, yes. I could make you a lamb sandwich?”
Jaime consulted his stomach, which informed him that he was no longer particularly nauseous and actually quite hungry. “I think I’d quite like a lamb sandwich.”
Alys smiled, a pretty echo of Brienne’s beaming grin. “I’ll make you one, right away.”
“Alys.” A plump young man with a maester’s chain hesitated in the doorway. Jaime recognised the voice. Sam, he’d named himself. “Could I have, do you think, a moment?”
“Of course!” She whisked past him with another smile.
Sam shut the door. “How are you feeling?”
“A lot better,” Jaime said. “What did I have? Food poisoning, right?”
Sam shook his head. “A near terminal case of stupidity. Did it not occur to you that going off three powerful drugs at the same time might, I don’t know, cause a few problems?”
Jaime blinked at him. “I ran out of my scripts … anyway, how the fuck do you know?”
“Endrew the apothecary, who is no fool, unlike you, called me. He asked, purely hypothetically, what would happen if a patient on a particular combination of medications stopped them all at once, and suddenly. And there’s no-one on this island, apart from you, taking anything that me or Gilly didn’t prescribe. So I went to see Selwyn, and Brienne took me up to see you, and you should be bloody grateful to all of us, frankly, because you’ve been spared several very unpleasant days and, quite possibly, death. Did you not hear anything your maester said to you when they prescribed them to you, at all?”
“Well, I was in prison,” Jaime said acidly. “And he was a prison maester. So I was perhaps less interested in his opinions than you might expect.” He shrugged. “And I’ve been feeling better, so …”
Sam sighed. “Look. Feeling better might be a good sign, it might be a sign that you can start to come off the anti-depressants. And there might be no need for you to keep taking the pain-killers, we won’t know until we try. But you can’t just quit all of them at once, cold-turkey, and think you can walk it off! Especially not the pain-killers!” He sat down on the edge of the bed, and then got up again hastily when the mattress dipped alarmingly. “Have you been experiencing mood swings, since you ran out of your meds?”
“What do you mean?”
“Bursts of anger, uncontrollable sadness or rage or elation, that sort of thing.”
Jaime shook his head. “Not more than usual.” Which was almost true, because it was not more than he’d used to find usual, at least.
Sam frowned a little. “And what’s usual?”
Jaime sighed. “I served in Lhazar, I saw my share of fucked up shit.” More than my share. “I get angry. Not for a good reason, sometimes not for any reason. That’s just … how it is.”
“I’m going to put you back on all your meds, for now. But I want you to come and see me, within the week, so we can talk about what you want to stay on and what you want to come off, and the best and safest way for you to do so. Alright?”
Jaime nodded his agreement, not meaning it for a second. “So I’m fine?”
Sam’s frown deepened. “You’re very lucky to be alive. You’ll probably feel very lethargic for the next day or so, and there a chance you’ll experience a very low mood. So I’d like you stay here at Evenfall Hall for a bit, where there’s someone to look after you.”
Jaime shook his head. “Can’t. I told you. Everything’s worse, under a roof.” He flung back the blankets, intending to haul himself out of bed.
Sam put a gentle but firm hand on Jaime’s chest and pulled the blankets back up with his other hand. “Did the claustrophobia start when you were incarcerated, or does it predate that?”
“Well, what do you think?” Jaime snapped at him. “It doesn’t fucking matter, does it? Are you actually intending to keep me prisoner here? Because if not, I’m going back to my tent – ”
“Which is far too close to a very large cliff for me to be comfortable with you being alone up there until your anti-depressants kick back in,” Sam said. “Listen, rather than talk, for a moment. Brienne and Selwyn are setting up one of their tents for you out the back of the Hall. You’ll be outside, which you want, but you’ll also be near people who can watch out for you if you need it, which I want. Can we agree on the compromise?”
Outside. “I need to be able to see the sky. The stars.” The Maiden, the Warrior, the Stallion … his only companions, this past year, in all their blazing glory.
“I’ll tell them. Will you agree to stay in bed, and eat something, while I do that?” Jaime nodded, and Sam smiled. “Good.”
As soon as Sam left, Alys appeared with the promised sandwich, perching on the edge of the bed as he ate it. The chutney was as amazing as advertised, and Jaime told her so, making her blush.
“Dad said none of us are allowed to ask you any questions,” Alys said. “But you could ask me questions, if you like.”
He was in what was probably her bed, wearing what were very likely her pyjamas, eating a decidedly excellent sandwich that she had made for him, so Jaime didn’t snort derisively and tell her that there was absolutely nothing a sixteen-year-old girl had to say that interested him. He just shook his head, because he absolutely didn’t care anything about any of the Tarths except how soon he could pry himself free from their clutches –
He chewed and swallowed. “This is your room?”
Alys shook her head. “Brienne’s. Those are her pyjamas, too.”
Jaime blinked. “She didn’t strike me as an extremely pink sort of woman.”
“It’s her favourite colour. She never wears it, though, she says it makes her look ridiculous.” She shrugged. “It doesn’t matter how often we tell her she’s pretty, she never believes it.”
Jaime did snort derisively at that. “That’s because it’s a lie. Lady Brienne is definitely not pretty.”
Alys rose to her feet, glaring at him. “Walking Man, you take that back! Brienne took Sam up to get you, she carried you to the truck even though you were extremely smelly, don’t you dare insult her!”
Jaime ate the last bite of the sandwich. “I wasn’t. I meant, if you want to give her a compliment she believes, tell her something that’s true.” He shrugged. “Tell her she has lovely eyes.” She really does have astonishing eyes. “Tell her she’s tall, tell her she looks like one of the heroes of old, tell her she’s magnificent, all those things are true, too. Look.” He found a dollop of chutney that had escaped the sandwich and scooped it up with his finger. “I have a brother, who I daresay I love at least as much as you love your sister. He’s short. Very short, he was born with achondroplasia, it’s a form of dwarfism. I could have told him how tall he was every day of his life, he’d still be short and know he was.” He licked the chutney off his fingertip. “All he’d get from the experience is the expectation that every other compliment was a lie as well. You really should think of going into business when you’re older, I don’t think I’ve ever had chutney this good.” He grinned at her. “Also, Walking Man?”
Alys blushed again. “We didn’t know your name. And we needed to call you something.”
Jaime shrugged. “It’s far from the worst thing I’ve been called. So, there’s three of you? Brienne, Galladon, and you.”
“And Arianne, she’s the youngest. She’s away at school,” Alys said with visible pride. “She’s the clever one, you see.” She smiled. “Morne High was enough for Gall and me, but Arianne needs a proper education.”
Gall and me. “And Brienne? Did she go away to school as well?”
Alys shook her head. “She probably should have, she’s very clever too. But when Mum died –”
There was a gentle tap at the door. “Jaime?” Brienne said quietly. “Can I come in?”
“Your sister’s in here too,” Jaime called back. “So I can assure you, I am entirely decent.”
Brienne opened the door and came in. “We’ve got a tent set up for you out the back. Sam said it was important to you that you could see the stars, so we made sure that you could. I checked.”
Of course you did. You carried me to your truck in your arms when I was filthy with my own shit. Her kindness was ridiculous. Even after she met me. It was utterly infuriating. “This must be a dream for you, Lady Brienne,” he said acidly. “To have captive to your curiosity. I do promise you, though, I won’t be falling in love with you while you nurse me back to health.”
She scowled at him. Much better. “I don’t intend to do very much nursing. Sam says all you need is three meals a day, to take your meds, and to be looked in on occasionally. Which is good, because we’re all far too busy to do anything more.”
“Excellent,” Jaime snapped back at her.
“I’m here to help you outside. Or Gall can do it, if it’s beneath your dignity to be helped by a girl.”
He snorted. “You’re not a girl.” No diminutive term could possibly be appropriate for the majestic Lady Brienne Tarth.
“Well I’m not a fucking moose,” she retorted. “Do you want to be outside, or not?”
“Yes,” he had to admit sullenly.
“Then give me your arm.”
So he did.
Chapter 7: Brienne III
Walking Man recovers.
Angst forecast: mild
Brienne spent the next four days avoiding Walking Man as much as possible.
The first two days, that wasn’t hard. Walking Man stayed inside the battered old Tarth family tent, sleeping most of the time except when they woke him for meals, coming inside once a day for a shower. Brienne left it to her father and Gall to check on him, though she did make sure to leave her bedroom window open so she’d hear and wake if Walking Man decided to be true to form and walk off in the middle of the night, and she did fold his clothes once they’d dried on the line and leave them quietly outside his tent.
The third day, he emerged from the tent in the morning and spent the day doing little more than sitting beside it, staring up at the sky. The fourth day Walking Man went for a walk, down to the shore and along the beach, gazing out at the whitecaps whipped up in the bay. Brienne trailed him at a discreet distance until he stopped and turned and glared at her.
“Making sure I don’t fling myself into the waves?” he shouted against the winds.
“Yes, actually,” Brienne yelled back.
Scowling, he stalked back to Evenfall Hall, flung himself into the tent, and didn’t come out again until the next morning.
On the fifth day, Sam drove over from Morne, crawled into the tent and stayed for about an hour. When he emerged, he told Selwyn that he was comfortable with Jaime camping where-ever he wanted to.
Jaime was gone within the hour, walking up the road to Dreamfyre Point. Selwyn gave him one of the old rucksacks the kids had used when they were too small for full-sized packs, and he took that. Alys gave him a day’s worth of left-overs and three jars of chutney, and he took all that too.
And my pyjamas, Brienne realised, several hours later.
The Tarths kept on keeping an eye on him, from a discreet distance. Once a week Sam drove out to Evenfall Hall and Selwyn or Brienne drove him up to Dreamfyre Point and waited in the truck while Sam talked to Jaime and Jaime, mostly, shouted at Sam.
“I’m sorry he’s so rude to you,” Brienne said to Sam on the way back after the third time she’d spent an hour sitting in the truck with one of Alysanne’s romance novels while Jaime stalked back and forth, glaring and yelling at Sam.
Sam folded his hands across his plump stomach. “Well, for one thing, it’s not exactly something you can do anything about, is it?”
Brienne snorted. “I don’t think there’s much anyone can do about Jaime.”
He smiled. “There’s maybe a little I can do for him, though.”
“Maybe it was a good thing I never finished forging my ring,” Brienne said. “I could never be as kind and patient as you, not to someone so horrible all the time.” She paused. Cameron’s Shockingly Pocked Cock Rock now in stock! “Most of the time. A lot of the time.”
“Remember that stray dog you brought in last year? The one with the abscess?”
Brienne nodded. “Scruffy. Thin Abelar adopted him.”
“Remember how he bit you four times before you got him to my office and three more while I was treating him?” Sam chuckled. “It took me longer to patch you up than him.”
“He was in pain,” Brienne protested. “He didn’t understand that he needed help, it wasn’t his fault.”
“Exactly.” Sam turned in his seat to look at her. “It’s actually a very great shame you didn’t finish your degree, Brienne. I think you would have made an excellent maester of wellness, because you already understand that when something – or someone – in very great pain lashes out, often the only thing it means is that they’re in a lot of pain.”
Brienne chewed on her lip for a moment. “So Jaime is in a lot of pain? Can you help him?”
Sam sighed. “I don’t know. I mean, I wasn’t able to help you, was I?”
Brienne was startled enough to take her eyes from the road for a heartbeat and stare at him. “Help me? Why?”
“Brienne.” Sam sighed again. “What happened to you –”
“What happened to me happened,” she snapped. “It can’t unhappen. The only way you can help me is to find some way to cause Westeros-wide, no, scratch that, world-wide, amnesia. Can you do that?”
“No,” Sam said quietly.
“Well, then,” Brienne retorted, and they spent the rest of the drive in silence.
She buried the second half of that conversation in the deep well in her mind where she did her best to keep everything that touched on The Thing That Had Happened, but she couldn’t help prodding at the first part, lying awake that night. You’re not a girl, Jaime had flung at her, and it had stung in a way that similar taunts at school hadn’t – because back then, she’d believed her father when he promised her Sunflower, one day you’ll grow up and you’ll meet grown men, not silly boys, and they’ll see you for what you are and what you’re worth.
That had been a kind, well-meaning, lie. And now Brienne knew it was a lie, knew that all the ways in which she was freakish and huge and mannish mattered more than anything else about her and always would. Jaime’s casual observation that she wasn’t a girl, not a real girl, not in the ways that mattered to the world, had cut far deeper than she hoped she’d let herself show.
She turned her pillow over and punched it. Jaime’s words had cut to the bone. But then, Scruffy bit clear to the bone. And it hurt, and I was hurt … but it wasn’t his fault.
After breakfast the next day, she fossicked through the fridge until she’d dug out some left-over ham and a fat piece of bright yellow cheese.
“I made you lunch,” Alys said. “You don’t think I’d forget, do you?”
“No, of course not,” Brienne assured her quickly. “I thought I’d take Walking Man some sandwiches. Luceon says he mostly buys tins and dehydrated foods – which makes sense, given he’s camping – but I thought something fresh might be good for him.”
“That is a good idea,” Alys said, and expertly hip-checked Brienne away from the counter. “Fresh greens, too. Will you go out to the garden and get me some lettuce, some tomatoes, and a handful of parsley?”
“Sure,” Brienne said, and did. Within half-an-hour, she was behind the driver’s wheel of the old truck with an entire crammed-full hamper beside her.
Jaime was sprawled on his back, gazing up at the clouds scudding across the deep blue sky. Brienne got out of the truck with the hamper and slammed the door loudly, to let him know she was there.
He rolled over, glaring at her. “What are you doing here?”
“Peace offering,” she called, hoisting the hamper. “My sister’s sandwiches. And a salad.”
Jaime scowled. “I thought you Tarths understood I just wanted to be left alone.”
“I’m just going to leave it here.” Brienne put the hamper down. “Put it back by the road when it’s empty, alright? One of us will pick it up on our way past.”
Jaime scrambled to his feet as Brienne turned back to the truck. “Wait. Lady Brienne.” She stopped and turned. Jaime raked his fingers through his hair. “Peace offering for what?”
She shrugged. “Take your pick. What are you most pissed off about?”
He came a little closer. Like a stray dog, not quite sure if he can trust me.
Not quite sure if he’s going to bite, or not.
She braced herself for whatever biting insult he’d come up with.
“Following me around like I can’t be trusted on my own.”
“Ah.” Brienne bent, and picked up the hamper. “In that case, I’m keeping the sandwiches. I won’t apologise for that.”
A few steps closer. “Why not?” Jaime spat. “Do you think that was reasonable?”
Brienne took a deep breath. “Well,” she said, “There was a time or two when I considered walking out into those waves myself, so yes, actually, I do think it was reasonable, given you’d just gone cold-turkey on two different anti-depressants.”
He made a scoffing noise. “Oh, so you’re a maester too?”
“No,” Brienne said as calmly as she could. “I never finished forging my rings.”
Jaime raised an eyebrow. “Why not?”
“Why not is the reason I looked out at Shipbreaker Bay like that,” Brienne said. “And the rest isn’t any of your business, any more than the reason you’re Walking Man is any of mine.” She hoisted the hamper. “Do you want the sandwiches?”
He studied her for a moment, eyes narrowed, and then cocked his head to one side. “Do you want breakfast?”
She blinked. “I’ve had breakfast.”
“Second breakfast,” he countered swiftly, with that brilliant smile that transformed his whole face.
She couldn’t stop herself smiling back. “You like those movies too?”
His smile dimmed a bit. “I’ve only seen the first one, but I liked that. So, second breakfast?” He gestured back towards his tent and campfire, and gave a courtly bow. “Some plump farmer came up to me and said his hens were over-laying, so I have eggs. No bacon, alas, but I do have a work-around.”
“Alright.” Brienne carried the hamper over to his tent and set it down. “That would have been Fat Endrew, his place is up here.”
“He wasn’t that fat.” Jaime stirred the campfire apart until it was just coals, and set a pan on them.
“No, but we already had Short Endrew and Tall Endrew. And just plain Endrew. Can I help?”
“No, Lady Brienne, you can sit quietly and allow me to be of service.”
She smiled as she sat down on the soft, thick grass. “I’m fairly sure that cooking is not in any list of knightly duties.”
“Well, it should have been.” Jaime opened a couple of tins and tipped them into the pan. “It’s a fairly basic survival skill, after all. And in all those stories? How were the escaping hero and heroine supposed to survive without fainting of hunger if he couldn’t cook?”
“I think the idea was that she would do the cooking, and he would do the fighting.”
He snorted. “And how many noble ladies could skin a rabbit and roast it over a campfire? I hope you’re not picky, by the way.”
“Oh, and that’s promising,” Brienne said drily.
He glanced at her, brilliant green eyes dancing with merriment. “I meant, I don’t have plates. So we’ll have to eat out of the pan.”
“Mmm, if you’d tasted some of Alysanne’s early efforts, you’d know that eating out of the pan is not exactly the worst thing that’s happened to me at a meal.”
Jaime laughed. “Allow me to be grateful for your sacrifice, because that chutney …” He stirred the contents of the pot. “She should start her own business, you know. There are plenty of bespoke grocers in King’s Landing who’d stock it.”
Brienne blinked at him. “I was thinking that.”
“I have a brother, who is quite clever at business.” Jaime reached over and picked up an egg. He cracked it one-handed into the pan before dropping the shell in the coals. “He’d probably have some ideas about making it work.”
“Mmm.” Brienne drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. Too much? Too soon? Possibly not – Alys had told them what he’d said about his brother, after all. So it can’t be that much of a sore spot. Can it? “You have a brother?”
Jaime cracked another egg into the pan, nodding. “Tyrion.”
“And he’s a businessman?”
Jaime shot her a sideways grin. “Technically, he’s a lawyer. More generally, he seems to be fairly good at pretty much anything that makes money. How many eggs can you eat?”
“Two,” Brienne said. “For second breakfast.”
“And for first breakfast?”
“The sky would be the limit.”
Jaime paused in the act of cracking a third egg into the pan. “Well,” he said at last, rapping the egg against the edge of the pan. “You should come up for first breakfast some time, Lady Brienne, so we can put that to the test.”
Chapter 8: Jaime V
Tarth, it turns out, has weather with a capital W.
Angst forecast: late storms
Jaime opened his eyes and realised he couldn’t see a fucking thing. Because it’s still night.
What the fuck? The Tarths had been really very good about leaving him alone, up until now. Sure, Brienne had brought him a hamper of food every few days, for no more than the cost of a few of the eggs Fat Endrew kept bringing him and the time spent cooking them. He had to endure her company, of course, but that wasn't entirely unbearable until his temper turned filthy on him again. And she did it regularly enough for Jaime to be able to plan for those mornings she’d be there for breakfast, which was deeply irritating. But not even Brienne has shown any signs of being likely to turn up in the middle of the night and shout at me when I’m trying to sleep.
“Jaime!” It was definitely Brienne’s voice, coming closer. “Jaime, wake up!”
He crawled out of his sleeping bag, shivering in the autumn chill. When he unzipped the tent-fly, stinging rain hit him in the face. Shit. A storm had clearly blown in over the Narrow Sea during the night. And it wasn’t pitch-black, not quite, although very little daylight was making it through the dark clouds roiling overhead. “I am,” he called acidly into the gloom, “Fucking awake. Lady Brienne.”
She emerged from the obscuring veils of wind and water, resplendent in bright yellow oil-slickers from head to foot, the heavy-duty flash-light in her hand weak and pale in the murk. “You’ve got to come with me.”
Another blast of rain struck him, cold enough to take his breath away. “This is hardly the weather for a pleasant stroll.”
Brienne reached him and dropped to her knees. “No, listen. There’s an early storm coming in. It’s rated category three –”
“Bother me when it’s rated category ten.”
Jaime started to retreat back into his tent and Brienne grabbed his arm. “There is no category ten. Five is as bad as it gets.” He tried to pull away and she tightened her grip. “Jaime. If you stay here, the wind will rip your tent clear off the ground and you’ll either get battered to death as it blows around, or you’ll manage to get out, and then die of hypothermia.” When he hesitated, she scowled at him. “Get your arse in the bloody truck, Jaime!”
Part of him wanted to tell her to fuck off, to crawl back into his sleeping bag and wait for the inevitable end the gods had planned for him. Another part, however, at least as large as the first, had been deployed to assist after enough natural disasters in the years since the war to know exactly what Brienne meant when she talked about weather and wind. Allied to that part was the bit of himself that couldn’t look away from her eyes, brilliant blue even in the dim light of the scudding grey clouds. “I have to pack up.”
Her hand tightened. “No time.”
“Everything I own is in here!”
“I’ll bring it.” She tugged him to his feet. “The truck’s unlocked. Go and get in, I’ll be right there.”
Even the short sprint to Brienne’s truck left Jaime utterly drenched, the pyjamas he’d accidentally packed when he left Evenfall Hall clinging to his skin. He yanked the door open and crawled into the passenger seat, wrapping his arms around himself and shivering. After a few moments, he could see Brienne approaching. She’d resorted to the simple expedient of removing the poles from his tent and then just carrying the whole thing, majestically indifferent to the gusts of wind and sheets of rain.
She opened the rear door of the truck, shoved his tent inside, and then got in behind the wheel. “I’m sorry I’m so late. We only just got the warning. They’re not usually so bad this early.”
Jaime held his hand against the air vent on the dash as Brienne turned on the engine. The blast of hot air did little to warm either the truck, or him. “You mean th-this is a r-regular thing?” he asked through chattering teeth.
“Where did you think the name Stormlands came from?” She switched on the radio.
… order now in place, a woman’s voice said. It is too late to leave if you are north of Edwyn’s End. I repeat, there is a shelter-in-place order now in place. It is too late to leave if you are north of Edwyn’s End. All other residents, activate your emergency plans now if you have not already done so.
“Th-that sounds b-bad.”
“Put your seat-belt on. And it is bad.” Brienne put the truck in gear and inched forward. “It’s moving fast. We’re not going to make it down to Evenfall Hall, I don’t think.”
Jaime fumbled with the seat-belt, his fingers clumsy with cold. Well, shit. Brienne would be safe at home inside the hall’s thick stone walls, if she hadn’t come up here to rescue my worthless arse. And now both he and she were going to die, if the storm was as bad as it sounded. He’d seen vehicles almost as large and solid as Brienne’s truck blown off the road, over-turned, crushed by fallen trees … “B-better find somewhere t-to stop and hope w-we can ride it out.”
She didn’t look away from the road. “Don’t worry. I know where we’ll be safe. Really safe, not just hopefully so.”
The truck wasn’t getting any warmer and Jaime’s shivering was getting worse. He wrapped his arms around himself again, trying to conserve a little of the body-heat he was rapidly losing to his cold, wet clothes. “H-how f-far?”
“Maybe half-an-hour, in this weather.”
He’d definitely been hoping for less than that, but he couldn’t fault Brienne for how slowly she was driving. The windshield wipers barely made a dent in the sheets of water sweeping over the windshield and her high-beams improved visibility from nil to nearly nil. Even the increasingly-regular flashes of lightning did little more than illuminate the clouds.
Jaime sat and shivered hard enough to make his muscles ache, and kept his mouth shut, not wanting to distract her, given the safety of both of them was at the mercy of her concentration and her memory of the road. His eyes kept closing, leaden exhaustion weighing him down. Bad sign. As long as he was still shivering, though, he wasn’t in too much trouble.
After what felt like eternity, Brienne turned the wheel and the truck began to bump over a rougher track. “Hold on,” she said. “We’re nearly there.”
Thank fuck. The wind was battering the truck now, Brienne using her considerable strength to keep it on track. One particularly bad gust could have us over.
And then, with an abruptness that startled him, everything stopped. Jaime opened his eyes to see the truck’s headlights illuminating a stone wall. He could still hear the roar of the wind and the rain was still bucketing down, but not on the top of the truck. She did it.
Brienne turned off the engine and got out of the truck. “Come on, Jaime. Can you move?”
He nodded, fumbled the seatbelt off and climbed out himself. They were in what looked like an old barn that had been converted to a garage. Cords of firewood were stacked shoulder-high all along one wall and a newish-looking roller-door closed out the elements. “Wh-wh-where – ”
“An old cottage. Well, the garage of one.” She came around the truck and took his arm, the warmth of her hand scorching his skin. “Used to be the barn. Lean on me, come on, we’re alright now, you’re going to be alright now.”
He needed to get changed, as quickly as possible. “Dr-dr-dry –”
“Yes, it’s quite weather-proof.” Brienne helped him to a thick wooden door in the wall of the barn and pushed it open. “Just through here, it’s small but it’s structurally solid. You need to get out of those wet clothes.”
There was little light in the cottage and Brienne didn’t pause to find a light-switch, just steered him forward. As his eyes adjusted, Jaime could see that there was apparently only one single room, an odd design, taller than it was wide. A pot-belly stove sat in the centre of the single room, its chimney snaking up to exit through the roof. A bed piled high with blankets was a few yards away. There was a couch, a coffee table, a crammed bookshelf and a wall of cupboards, a counter with a sink, and very little else.
Brienne dumped him on the bed and opened one of the tall cupboards, giving him a brief glimpse of a privy. She came back with a towel and put it down beside him. “Strip off, dry off, and get into bed. I’ll get the fire going.”
All of those sounded like excellent ideas to Jaime. He dragged off his pyjamas – Brienne’s pyjamas – and discovered that drenched to the skin was not just an expression. Even his smallclothes were sodden. He scrubbed himself with the towel as well as he could while keeping his back to the stove, where he could hear Brienne building a fire. A match flared, and a little warmth began to permeate the room. Not enough, though, to make huddling close to the stove a better option than the bed. He flung back the covers and got in.
Alright. With the blankets over him, shivering would eventually raise his core temperature to the point where he’d start to warm the air around his body. It would be a slow and utterly exhausting process, but at least at this point it wasn’t too likely that Brienne would have to work out what to do with his dead body. The wind howled overhead, but neither the walls nor the roof rattled. Solid. Safe. Jaime closed his eyes and did his best to keep his teeth from chattering loose from his head.
A hand touched his shoulder. “Jaime. Wake up, and drink this.”
He raised himself on his elbow and discovered that this was a mug of tea, laden with so much sugar it made him grimace.
“You need the calories, as well as the warmth,” Brienne said firmly, which was probably true, so he sipped it, teeth chattering on the rim of the mug, while she bustled around in the light of a hurricane lantern, putting a saucepan on the stove and digging in what seemed to be an absolutely crammed pantry cupboard. She’d shed her rain-gear, and was wearing some sort of fleecy sports outfit that outlined every muscle on her body, even in the low light. “The soup’s only tinned, I’m afraid.”
“I’m used t-t-to that.” He drained the last of the tea. “Where is th-this place?”
“It belonged to my mum’s side of the family, but no-one’s lived here for a while.” She shrugged, stirring the soup. “Too expensive to get power up here.” She paused as a long roll of thunder rumbled overhead. “We keep it stocked up still, for emergencies. Like this.”
Jaime looked up at the high ceiling. “Doesn’t s-seem a very efficient d-design. Heat rises.”
Brienne snorted. “Yes, thank you for the high-school physics lesson. When this place was built, this stove would have been an open hearth, and up there would have been sleeping-platforms, so heat rising was very much the point.” She hooked another couple of mugs from the cupboard and ladled soup into them.
“How l-long do these usually last?” Jaime asked as she gave him one of the mugs and sat down on the other side of the bed.
“The very worst of it should be over by tomorrow.” Brienne sipped her soup and sighed with appreciation.
Tomorrow. I can endure one night indoors, can’t I? Jaime sipped his own soup. Pea and ham, not his favourite, but it was hot and it wasn’t over-sweet tea, so two points in its favour. “But then there’s the clean-up.”
Brienne nodded. “And sometimes they pick up force over Shipbreaker Bay and turn around again.” She smiled at him. “Don’t worry. This place has a rain-water tank, and there’s enough food to last for months.”
Jaime’s stomach sank. Months. But no, it wouldn’t be months, it would be a day or maybe two. Brienne was just being hyperbolic, that was all, it wouldn’t be months shut in here, unable to get outside –
Brienne leaned over and touched his shoulder gently. “Jaime. A couple of days, most likely.” She paused to let another grumble of thunder pass. “This time. But you’ll have to make some plans for the winter, you know. Dorne?”
“I like Tarth.”
She smiled. “I like Tarth too, but you won’t survive a winter outdoors here. It’s not as cold as the North or the Vale, but this is only the first of this year’s storms.”
“I’ll get Tyrion to buy me a better tent.” Shit. Tyrion. “Can you bring my stuff in here? I’d get it myself, but I’m naked as my name-day under these blankets. I need to call my brother. He knows I’m on Tarth, if this storm makes the news …”
Brienne nodded and got up. “Of course, but I don’t know if you’ll be able to get reception, not out here, not in this.”
It took her only a few moments to haul his entire tent inside and search it for his pack, but when she gave it to him and Jaime found his phone in the mess of his damp clothes and turned it on, he discovered that she’d been right: not a single bar of reception, just no service scrolling across the top of his screen. “Shit. Shit!” Maybe Tyrion won’t realise how bad it is … maybe they won’t report it … Fat fucking chance, if he knew his little brother in the slightest, Tyrion would have set up 3ER alerts for where-ever Jaime was at the time. “Can I borrow your slicker? If I send him a text message I might be able to find somewhere closer to the road, higher up maybe, where there’s enough reception for it to send.”
He glared at her. “You don’t understand, I’m all he’s got, if he thinks I’m dead –”
“It’s infinitely preferable to him learning that you are actually dead and the proximate cause is you trying to send him a text-message. Listen to the wind out there. You’d be blown off your feet the minute you stepped outside the door.”
She was fucking right, that was the Seven Hells of it. Jaime let his phone fall onto the bed and thumped his head on the pillow. “Shit, shit, shit, Seven bloody buggering Hells.” A thought occurred him and he raised himself up a little. “What about you? Your phone must work up here, right, your Dad wouldn’t let you come up here in this weather without a way to call for help –”
Her eyes narrowed. “First of all –”
Jaime groaned. “Not another fucking list!” She’s constitutionally incapable of having an argument or a disagreement or even a difference of opinion without bloody listing every single one of her points at once.
“First of all,” she snapped at him, “I’m a grown adult and Dad doesn’t let me do anything. Secondly, I don’t call for help, I am the help. Thirdly, if my phone was working, do you really think I’m so stupid and so thoughtless as not to have offered already?”
He waited, but no fourthly was forthcoming for this particular one of Brienne’s lists. “So you really have no way at all to get in touch with him? With anyone?” She shook her head. “Won’t your family worry?”
“Of course they’ll worry!” she cried.
“Then how could you be so selfish as you get yourself stranded with no way to let them know you’re alive?” he shot back.
“And leave you up there, in this?”
Jaime shrugged. “I made my own bed. You should have left me to lie in it.”
“Next time, I will.” Her tone was icy. “Have you finished your soup? I want to wash up.”
Wordlessly, he held the mug out to her. Equally wordlessly, she took it, rose to her feet and stalked away.
Chapter 9: Brienne IV
Brienne is annoyed with Walking Man
Angst forecast: moderate
Fuming, Brienne boiled another kettle of water, poured it into the sink, added cold water from the tap and washed the mugs and the saucepan with such energy that she broke the dish-mop half way through. How I am going to get through the next twenty-four hours without strangling Walking Man in his sleep I do not know. She dried the dishes, picked up the sodden pink pyjamas and wet towel Jaime had abandoned on the floor because of course he did, dug out the clothes horse and draped everything over it. She stirred the fire, brought in more wood, and checked on her rain-gear hanging to dry in the garage, all to the accompaniment of crashes of thunder now seeming straight overhead.
Then she stood glaring at Walking Man’s back.
He’d rolled over to face away from the kitchen nook before she’d even set the kettle back on the stove and lain there without moving the entire time. Pretending to be asleep. Only pretending, though, because she could see he was still shivering a little from time to time. Fine. Let him pretend. At least it means he can’t talk to me. She twitched back the blankets on the other side of the bed and slipped in, lying as far away from Walking Man as she could, and not just because he was naked as his name-day. She’d kept her back tactfully turned as much as she could while he stripped off, but she’d seen enough to know that if he’d looked half-a-corpse, half-a-god when she’d helped Sam clean him up, he was all god now.
Except none of the Seven could be such a prick. It wasn’t the first time he’d said something intended to make her angry, or hurt her, or both. It probably, if she’d been keeping count, wasn’t even the fifty-first. Most of it didn’t bother her. If one of his black moods wasn’t on him, he was so self-evidently pleased to see her when she parked near his tent and climbed out of her truck with another hamper of food, and he laughed and smiled so readily, that she found it easy not to take it personally when he lashed out. If he’d kept harping on about her freakishness, she might not have been able to, but that one cutting comment about her lack of femininity hadn’t recurred.
And he was the only person in her life who never once looked at her with pity or with speculation, never tried to make her feel better, never told her that it people don’t care any more or it wasn’t your fault or tried to cheer her up. Of everyone she knew, Jaime was the only one who was able to utterly convincingly pretend that The Thing hadn’t happened.
It helped, no doubt, that the past was off-limits, hers and his. They’d come to a silent agreement that the future was, as well. They talked, instead, about old movies, about what work Brienne had to do that day, about her family and his brother. She told him about Arianne’s intellect, two grades ahead already, she’s at a special school for gifted children, about Alys and some of the more disastrous recipes she’d experimented with, about Gall and his terrible driving. They argued, without heat, over the best rock band and the best passage of classical music and just how much truth there was in the old songs and sagas.
When he was in one of his moods, she simply left the hamper and took herself off. When he snapped at her, she ignored it, and if he did it twice, she just left.
This, however, was different. Selfish. I risked my neck to save his life and he calls me selfish.
If I was selfish, I would have gone to boarding school instead of staying home to help Dad with the little ones after Mum died. If I was selfish, I might have had the chance Arianne has, to finish school and start at the Citadel faster.
If I was selfish, I might never have met –
“Stop sulking,” Walking Man said acidly.
“I’m not sulking,” she snapped.
He rolled over on to his back. “I can fucking feel you sulking, and it’s keeping me awake.”
“Well, sorry to be so selfish as to prevent you from napping at nine in the morning.”
He heaved a gale-force sigh. “Fuck me.”
“Not with my worst enemy’s dick.”
He snorted. “I don’t swing that way, actually.” He paused, and Brienne could feel him looking at her, as clearly as if he’d reached out and touched her skin. “Who is your worst enemy, anyway?”
“You brought him up.”
Brienne rolled over to face him, scowling. “It’s a figure of speech.”
“But you have one.”
He gave her a sharp smile. “Oh, yes. According to Maester Sam, it’s me.”
“I’m not sure I disagree.”
Jaime sighed again, more softly this time. “I was in prison. There. Your turn.”
Brienne shook her head. “No. That’s not fair. You don’t get decide what you say and also what I say.”
“You have to say something.”
“Well, that’s how it works in the movies,” he said, so entirely reasonably it took her a moment to see the amusement in his eyes and the smile twitching at the corner of his mouth.
She let out a huff of breath. “Alright. I’ll tell you one thing, but I get to choose what.”
Jaime raised an eyebrow. “Fair.”
“I was a student at the Citadel.”
“I knew that,” he objected. “That’s not fair. Did you know I’d been in prison?”
“I surmised,” she shot back.
“Oh, really? How?”
“Lots of people have claustrophobia.” He shook his head without raising it from the pillow. “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“How to be minimally polite?”
His expression darkened. “I told you what I was like the first day we met.”
“You knew I was a snake, baby, when you took me in,” Brienne retorted. “That’s just bullshit. Anger is one thing, I know all about that.”
He snorted. “You? You couldn’t be really angry if your life depended on it. That’s your entire problem –”
“Or maybe I just fucking know better than to push everything I feel off onto other people!” Brienne raised herself on her elbow. “Maybe I understand that being angry doesn’t mean being angry at the person who happens to be in reach. Maybe –”
Jaime twitched at the blankets. “You’re letting the cold in.”
Brienne flopped back down. “I know it sucks.”
“Oh, do you.”
She glared at him. “Yes, actually, I do. You might think so little of me as to think the only reason I don’t hurt everyone who comes near me is just luck, but actually –”
“Well, I did fucking warn you,” Jaime snarled. He hoisted himself up, glaring down at her. “Don’t try and pretend now that you didn’t know from the very first day –”
“You’re letting the cold in.”
He scowled down at her for a moment longer and then flung himself back down on his back. “Sorry.” A moment’s silence, and then, grudgingly, “For the other thing, as well.”
Brienne blinked. That’s new. The closest Jaime had ever come to an actual apology before now was to rail at her for not understanding was a complete shit he was. She took a deep breath. “Me too.” She cleared her throat. “I was going to open a wellness centre at Evenfall Hall, there’s something you didn’t know.”
Jaime turned his head to look at her. “A wellness centre?”
She nodded. “That’s the degree I was doing. You know, massage, yoga teaching, nutrition, meditation, counselling …”
He snorted. “Laying on of hands, chanting …”
Brienne scowled at him. “Oh, so you’ve never had physio?”
“Well, I have, but –”
“Stretched before or after exercise? Thought about whether something was healthy to eat or not? It’s all scientific, you know.”
His eyebrows went up. “Even meditation?”
“Regular meditation lowers blood pressure and helps manage anxiety and depression. And I realise, given the way you treat Sam, that you don’t have much respect for counselling but a lot of people find it very helpful.”
“Sam’s a maester, not some touchy-feely –”
“Sam’s got a ring in general practice, one in minor surgery, and one in psychology. And he makes a fair vet in an emergency. He can treat anything that doesn’t need an operating room or a hospital ward and he can keep you alive until you get to either. And he’s the one who suggested I study to be a Maester of Wellness in the first place.”
“Because he didn’t think you were clever enough to be a real maester?” Jaime sneered.
“Oh, shut up.” She rolled over to give him her back. “You wanted me to tell you something, I told you something. See if I ever tell you anything ever again.”
There was silence, broken only by the crackling of the fire in the stove, the wind and the rain hammering the roof, and the occasional rumble of thunder.
“Tell me about being a Maester of Wellness,” Jaime said at last.
“Touchy-feely nonsense,” she snarled.
He chuckled. “You’re as touchy-feely as a sledgehammer.” Brienne flung herself over to glare at him and he raised his eyebrows. “What? It’s a compliment. Tell me about it.”
“You know, there are better ways to pay a compliment than to say someone is like a sledgehammer.”
“Oh, you don’t want to be powerful, stunning, irresistible?” Brienne gaped at him, and Jaime grinned. “Tell me about being a Maester of Wellness, Lady Sledgehammer. Serious question.”
She squinted at him suspiciously, but he seemed sincere. “Well. You know. Sometimes people aren’t unwell, but they’re not as well as they could be. They don’t need a maester. They don’t need a hospital. But they could be doing better than they are, with some help.” She shrugged. “A lot of people find it hard to deal with all that stuff alone.”
“Mmm. So you charge a small fortune for people who are unhappy to come and spend a week dieting and tucking their feet behind their ears with the promise that it will fix their life.”
Brienne sucked in a hard breath. “I – ” Gods be good, that’s exactly what I had planned. Not in such cold hearted terms but … “Evenfall Hall is a nice place to stay,” she said tightly. “And we need the money, to keep up the maintenance.”
“Oh, it’s a brilliant idea,” Jaime said, surprising her. “Tarth is lovely. The great and the good who just want a reason to turn their phones off for a week would have a perfect excuse. Add in nature hikes and meditation sessions on the beach in the summer, put your sister in charge of the catering, and who knows?” He shrugged. “Every now and again you might actually help someone. Why didn’t you go on with your studies?”
Brienne shook her head. “Oh, no. You don’t get two for one.”
“Mmm.” Jaime was silent for a moment. “I went to prison because I confessed to something I didn’t do. Why didn’t you go on with your studies?”
She glared at him. As if you don’t know. “Stop trying to change the rules,” she snapped. “Either you get to ask me a question and I get to ask you something, or we each get to pick. Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander.”
“Fine. Tell me something then, something else.”
She rolled over and stared at the ceiling. “My teachers wanted me to go away to school.”
“But you didn’t?”
“But I didn’t. Mum … Mum got sick. And then she died.”
Jaime’s voice was very soft. “How old were you?”
“I was seven.”
Brienne turned over to look at him. “I’m sorry.”
He shrugged, just the slightest movement of the blankets piled over them both. “I barely remember her. Might be easier, I don’t know.” Thunder cracked, and he glanced up at the ceiling. “That was close. So your mum got sick, and …?”
It was Brienne’s turn to shrug. “Dad needed me. Alys and Ari and Gall needed me.”
“So you gave up your own life, for them,” he said, unexpectedly bitterly.
She frowned. “No. I gave up going away to school for us, for all of us. They’re my life.”
Jaime turned his head and stared at her. “You mean that,” he said after a moment. “You really mean that. You’re fine with that.”
She stared back at him. “Of course I am. They’re my family.”
His mouth twisted in a sneer. “Family,” he spat at her, and flung himself over to face the opposite wall.
Chapter 10: Jaime VI
Brienne is infuriating, and she definitely needs Jaime to set her straight.
Guys I’ve had to enable comment moderation because of some sustained trolling. Please be assured I still welcome and treasure every comment, even critical ones, that aren’t about how I should never ship these characters in the first place.
Angst forecast: early storms, clearing later
Jaime stared at the wall until his vision blurred. Family. The stupid stubborn aurochs of a woman would give up everything that mattered to her for family because of course she would. She’d risk her life for the likes of me, after all.
And why should that be so disappointing? He’d done exactly the same thing for Cersei, hadn’t he? He’d been a fool, he’d been played for a fool, but how could he blame Brienne for falling for the same trick?
He glared at the stone bricks. He did blame her, that was the truth of it. She was better than he was, she should do better than he had. And she was quite evidently worth far more than he was – fuck, she wanted to devote her life to helping people feel better – so that made it even more disappointing, that she’d just surrendered.
And now she was lying next to him, rigid as a felled weirwood, staring up at the ceiling as fiercely as he was staring at the wall. “You need to live your own life,” he said at last. “If you let your family control your choices, you’ll end up with nothing.” Like me.
The mattress shifted as she rolled over. “They didn’t control my choice. Dad and Gall both told me I should go, but how could I? We’d just lost Mum. I needed to be with them, as well, it wasn’t that I wanted to be away and only stayed to help Ari with her homework and make sure Dad ate something.”
Ari. The clever one. “You were twelve, you said. None of that was your job.”
Brienne let out a huff of breath. “Well, I do know that. But it helped. Them, and me.”
“That’s the problem with you, isn’t it?”
“I thought my problem was that I wasn’t a raging asshole to everyone around me!” Brienne snapped.
Jaime shook his head. “Related. Your problem is that you put everyone else ahead of yourself.”
“I told you –”
“It made you feel better, yeah. Martyr complex.”
“Fairly sure you don’t have the faintest clue what that means,” she shot back.
“You make yourself feel important by sacrificing what’s important to you for other people. Going away to school. Becoming a maester. It’s why you won’t let yourself be angry, even with me. It’s why you’re here at all, isn’t it? Why you kept turning up with food, why you risked your life for someone you despise –”
“I don’t despise you!”
“Well, you should,” he snapped. “You would if you knew who I really am. And I’d certainly prefer it to your pity.”
“I don’t pity you either.”
“Then what?” He turned over to glare at her. “Tell the truth.”
She glared back at him. “At the moment, what I mostly feel is intense irritation.”
Jaime snorted. “That’s at least honest. They why have you been such a martyr as to keep subjecting yourself to my irritating company?”
“Because when you’re not being an arse, I like talking to you, actually. Everyone else –” She stopped, biting her lip.
“Kisses your ring because you’re Lady Brienne, the Evenstar’s daughter?”
Brienne chuckled. “That’s not really how Tarth works. I just – flung that at you, that first day, because you’d made me quite angry.”
Jaime shook his head. “You weren’t angry, not really. If you’d been angry, you would have punched me, or at least called me a useless one-handed maimed cripple –”
Brienne blue eyes went very wide. “I would never. Not either.”
He shrugged. “So, see? You don’t let yourself get angry.”
“Jaime.” She shifted a little and for a heartbeat he thought she was going to reach out and touch his face. “I just don’t let myself hurt people with my anger.” She smiled a little. “Well, I try to, at least. We’ve had some family rows over the years that ended up tears all round. And you really do have the whole martyr complex thing wrong, you know. If I was going hungry to bring you food, that would fit. But I’m not, and anyway, you always feed me when I get there, and I really like the way you cook eggs, in that sauce. I’ve never had anything like that before.”
“I learned the recipe in Lhazar.” He paused to let another crack of thunder pass. “I can teach you, you know. So you won’t have to put up with me to eat it.”
“Then who would I have to argue about movies with? Gall only watches action films, Alys is mad about rom-coms, and Dad thinks golf is the only reason television exists.”
Jaime had to look away from the honesty in her beautiful blue eyes. He rolled onto his back. “I’m going to keep on hurting you, you know. I don’t seem to be able to help it. I didn’t – I mean, I’ve always had a sharp tongue, but not … I haven’t always been the way I am, the way I am now.”
“I know.” Her voice was so quiet he could barely hear it over the rain pounding on the roof.
He snorted. “How could you possibly know?”
“What does Sam say, about the anger?” She smiled. “I presume it’s come up, given how much time you’ve spent over the past months raging at him.”
Jaime rolled his eyes. “He’s got it into his head that I’ve got PTSD. He might have forged the rings, but he didn’t forge a clue.”
“I thought it might be something like that,” Brienne said quietly.
He turned to stare at her. “I don’t have PTSD. I don’t have flashbacks, or nightmares.”
“Mmm, well. I did only do the first six months of my counselling course, but I refreshed my memory. Irritability and hostility, check. Social isolation, check. Trouble sleeping, check. Avoidance, well, you’re here on Tarth, so check. Negative thoughts about yourself, check. Mistrust, check.” She smiled a little. “And I think we can both agree your flight-or-fight impulse is in overdrive. Just because whatever happened to you isn’t playing out like a film on the inside of your eyelids, doesn’t mean you don’t have a bit of PTSD.” She did reach out then, putting her hand over his beneath the blankets. “Which is why you don’t hurt me, not really. I understand it’s a symptom. And … you’re better than you think you are, you know. You’ve never let yourself fling anything at me that would really matter. Well, except that once, and you were quite unwell at the time.”
He cast his mind back. “When I accused you of trying to get into my pants by nursing me back to health.”
Brienne snorted. “I’d already been in your pants at that point, who do you think helped Sam clean you up? You’re not exactly a featherweight to lift in and out of the bath, and Sam thought an ex-medical student was a better option than, say, my fairly clumsy brother.”
“Then what?” Jaime racked his brains. That was an unkind remark, but I don’t think –
Brienne bit her lip. “I do know what I look like, you know. Ari is the clever sister, Alys is the pretty one. I’m the big one. But I am still a girl, no matter how much I look like a man –”
Oh, for fuck’s sake. “I just meant you’re not a girl, I mean, not a child. You’re an adult human person, for which I believe the appropriate term is woman. And I don’t know how clever Ari is, but you’re no fucking slouch yourself. And Alysanne’s eyes aren’t a patch on yours. And you should wear as much pink as you fucking like.” He rolled over to put his back to her. “You’re giving me too much credit, you know, assuming I was refraining from telling you cruel truths when in fact, they’re not truths at all. And every insult has to contain truth at heart, or it doesn’t hurt at all.”
There was a long silence. “Pink doesn’t suit me,” Brienne said at last, oddly quietly.
“Blue is a better colour,” Jaime agreed. “That blue sweater you have goes well with your eyes. Wear a blue shirt and a pink skirt when you go out. Buy some bright pink running shoes for when you go jogging. Seven Hells, I doubt the sheep or the fenceposts care what colour your clothes are, wear pink from head to foot when you’re working.”
“I don’t wear skirts.” Brienne’s voice was still very quiet.
“I don’t know why not, your legs are fantastic, but fine, pink trousers.” He punched the pillow into a more comfortable shape. “And if it’s your boyfriend telling you not to wear pink, dump that loser. Fuck.” He fumbled the covers higher. “I fucking hate hypothermia, the last two degrees always take forever. Being too cold to sleep but not cold enough to shiver is definitely one of the Seven Hells.”
The mattress gave a little, and then suddenly Brienne was warm against his back, solid and strong. Involuntarily, he shifted a little closer. She rolled over, fitting her knees behind his, pressed against him from neck to heels. “Better?” she asked softly.
“Fuck me, yes.” He could feel the heat of her skin warming his own, the muscles tight with cold easing. “So much better.”
“I’m not doing this to get into your pants, either. Just so you know.”
He chuckled, eyes closing. “I’m not wearing any pants,” he reminded her.
She stroked his hair gently, so gently he wasn’t sure whether or not he was just imagining it. “I’m aware,” she whispered, under the pounding of the rain. “Go to sleep, Jaime. Go to sleep.”
So he did.
Chapter 11: Jaime VII
Jaime says the wrong thing. The Very Wrong Thing.
Angst forecast: barometer rising
It’s still raining.
That was the first thing Jaime knew as he floated up slowly to consciousness. Rain was falling on the roof, not the irregular sheets of rain dumped by the gale but a steady drumming. The wind was a steady whine, not a ferocious howl. The worst of the storm has passed. He was blissfully warm, in the way it was only possible to be warm when the air outside was unpleasantly cold. Heavy blankets protected him from it, the muscled arms gently wrapped around him an extra shield. He turned his face against the smooth shoulder beneath his head and –
Brienne had rolled away from him at some point while he slept. Which was understandable, but unfortunately Jaime had apparently rolled after her. He was sprawled half on-top of her, his head on her shoulder, his arm tight around her waist, his feet tangled with hers.
Carefully, he lifted his arm away. Brienne had instinctively wrapped her arms around him in her sleep, but he could probably manage to slip out from –
“Feeling better?” Brienne asked, far too alertly to have just woken up.
“Sorry.” He shifted away from her, and she let her arms drop from his shoulders. “Sorry, I just –”
“It’s cold,” she said gently. “I’m going to stoke the fire and make some food. Any preferences?”
He rolled onto his back. “What are my options?”
Brienne slipped out from under the covers. “How about dehydrated beef stew?”
Jaime turned to watch her crouch down gracefully to put more wood into the stove. “Depends on the brand. Connington’s beef stew tastes like sawdust.”
Brienne jerked to her feet. “I never buy Connington’s. It’s the Hot Pie brand.”
“Oh, well, then, bring it on.” He paused. “I, uh … need the privy. And I know I caught a glimpse of one before, but I’m not sure where. Also … would I have any dry clothes at all, do you think?”
“Your pyjamas – my pyjamas – are still a bit damp. Hang on.” She went to one of the many cupboards and rummaged inside. “These should fit.” She tossed a sweatshirt and a pair of trackpants onto the bed. “And the privy –” She opened one of the tall doors. “In here.”
Jaime picked up the clothes. “Galladon’s?”
“Mine,” Brienne said.
He began to get into them under the blankets, not the easiest of tasks with one hand. “You keep spare clothes up here for emergencies?”
Brienne yanked a couple of packets out of one of the cupboards. “No. I … I spent the summer up here. Last year. Some stuff got left behind, I guess.”
Jaime paused, one leg in the trackpants. “You spent the summer up here? What, love-nest with your boyfriend?”
She spun around, scowling. “Obviously not.”
He raised his eyebrows, finishing pulling on the pants. “I don’t know why you’re offended. It’s not the third century.” Not the days when preserving her maidenhead was a woman’s greatest virtue.
Brienne snorted, turning away again. “Nice recovery. Do you want rice, or instant mashed potatoes?”
Jaime rolled out of bed and padded to the privy. “Rice. Instant mash always has that floury taste.”
He relieved himself, washed his hand in the tiny sink, hoisted up Brienne’s sweatshirt to splash water on the one armpit he could reach.
“So I suppose you’re a connoisseur now, of just-add-water cooking?” Brienne asked when he emerged.
Jaime snorted. “Less of the now. I’ve been eating MREs since I was eighteen. I could rank everything you could possibly offer from one to a hundred by taste, texture, and sodium content.” He moved to the stove and held his hand out to the heat. “Hot Pie is a good choice, although their butter pigeon is the best option.”
“It’s good.” Brienne set a second saucepan on the stove. “But I think their fricassee rabbit beats it, even if just by a bit.”
“And why didn’t you offer me fricassee rabbit?”
She gave him a small smile. “Sorry, I’m afraid I ate my way through all those last year.”
“How short-sighted.” Jaime took a couple of steps and opened the pantry cupboard. “Pumpkin soup. Tomato soup. Pea and ham soup. Chicken soup. Vegetable soup. Tinned peas. Tinned carrots. Tinned corn. Tinned … I didn’t even know there were this many types of beans. Tinned tomatoes. And here we have – ”
Brienne interrupted him. “I do actually know what’s in the pantry, since I put it there.”
He closed the cupboard door. “You weren’t joking about there being food for months.”
“One storm lasted three weeks. Two hundred years ago, but still.” Brienne eyed the pots on the stove. She stirred one. “And the road down to Evenfall has washed out before now. And what if there were a dozen people needing shelter, not just us?”
Jaime raised his eyebrows, glancing around. “You’d be hard pressed to find where to put them. Has that ever happened?”
“Not that I know of, but that doesn’t mean it never will.”
“And you, of course, would be responsible for the safety and comfort of a dozen people who fucked up enough to be stuck here in a once-in-a-century storm,” Jaime scoffed.
Brienne looked up from her cooking. “I would be, actually. Well, Dad would. What did you think being the Evenstar actually means?”
Jaime shrugged. “Nice house, free money.”
She snorted. “The nice house is slowly falling to bits, the free money isn’t even enough to cover the cost of filling Dad’s truck. The Evenstar serves Tarth, serves the people of Tarth. Dad is responsible for the safety of everyone on the island. He’s responsible for making sure everyone can get healthcare, that all the kids get educated. If there’s a dispute, he settles it. If there’s a crime, he judges the trial. When Cerwynth starts to forget to get dressed before he goes shopping, Dad’s the one who goes out to talk to him. When Tall Wendel gets it into his head that his daughter is stealing his dentures and hiding them, Dad’s the one who drives up and finds them for him.”
A roll of thunder made him look up at the ceiling. Still too close. “That all sounds a lot less glamorous than being called the Evenstar would lead one to expect. So that’s why you were all keeping an eye on me, I guess? Only because it’s Selwyn’s job?” The knowledge was oddly deflating.
Brienne stared at him, her beautiful blue eyes wide. “No, of course not! If you’d been up at Parchments View, Durwald and Durran would have done it. If you’d been down at Wrathview, Cerwynth would have.”
He gave her his best hard smile. “So it was just proximity.”
“Making sure you weren’t sick or hurt was, yes. But I don’t come up for breakfast just because you’re nearby, Jaime.” Brienne’s voice was firm. She narrowed her eyes. “Why does it bother you so much? I always thought you hated it.”
Why does it bother me so much? Jaime shrugged. “I just thought … I guess I liked the idea that you were this extra-nice family. That there was one, somewhere.” He grimaced. “Teach me to forget what people are really like, at heart.”
“Maybe people in general are nice,” Brienne said. Jaime couldn’t hold back a laugh, and Brienne frowned at him. “Maybe we’re nice, and so are Durwald and Durran and Cerwynth, even if he could stand to wear clothes more frequently. Fat Endrew doesn’t bring you eggs because of some obligation, you know. Endrew the apothecary didn’t worry about what might happen to you without your meds and find a way to tell Sam about it because he’s a horrible person, either. Can you get a couple of bowls from the cupboard, the second one after the pantry?”
“I can’t believe you’re still so naïve,” Jaime said, going to do just that. “I mean, I would have thought Oldtown would have had some impact on your faith in humanity’s general goodness.” He put the bowls on the counter and turned around. “Want me to bring them over? I’ll have to do it one at a time.”
Brienne was staring at him, her freckles standing out like flecks of paint against her pale face, the spoon lying at her feet. “Wow,” she said at last, voice shaking. “I really did think better of you. I liked you for it.”
Jaime snorted. “Surely it can’t be a surprise to you that I’m a cynic.”
She shook her head. “But it’s a surprise to me that you could be so cruel.” Her voice steadied, oddly quiet, so he had to strain to hear it over the rain on the roof. “What’s next? Going to give me notes on my performance? Tell me how right they all were? Go on, then. Get it off your chest. Get it over with.”
Jaime blinked. “Performance? I don’t – ”
“Want me to get you started?” Brienne’s voice took on an edge he’d never heard. “I can, you know. I’ve heard it all. Or do you fancy yourself particularly imaginative?” She folded her arms. “Give it a try.”
“I don’t have the faintest idea what you’re talking about,” Jaime said. “And dinner’s burning.”
Brienne stared at him a moment longer, and then turned and jerked the saucepans off the stove hard enough to splash stew on the floor. “Move aside.” He did, and she shook her head. “Further. I don’t want to know what I might do if you’re in arm’s reach.”
Frowning, Jaime moved further away from the kitchen. “Brienne. I’m honestly in the dark about why you’re so upset at the idea that spending time in a big city might have given you a less rosy view of human nature.”
“Nice try.” Brienne set the pots down on the counter, hard. “I did appreciate you pretending you didn’t know, you know. I thought it was really kind of you, you’re the only person I know who’s ever been able to pull that off.” She scooped rice into the bowls and then started spooning stew over it. “But you were just waiting for the moment of maximum damage. And you can’t take it back.”
“I’m not pretending anything,” Jaime snapped. “You might as well be speaking Ghiscari for all the sense you’re making.”
She yanked open a drawer and dropped spoons on the counter. “I’ll sit on the bed,” she said, grabbing a bowl and spoon. “You sit on the couch. I don’t want to be anywhere near you.”
Chapter 12: Brienne V
Brienne attempts to be the better person.
Angst forecast: high
Brienne forced herself to spoon up her stew, to chew and swallow, even though each mouthful tasted of sawdust and the food sat in her stomach like a stone.
She sat. She ate. She didn’t look at Jaime, eating his own dinner on the couch.
She didn’t cry. Her eyes burned and her throat hurt, but she didn’t cry.
It was ridiculous how hurt she felt. You barely know him. She didn’t know how he’d lost his hand. She didn’t know why he’d gone to prison. She didn’t know where he’d gone to school, or why he’d joined the army, or anything about his family apart from his brother. She didn’t know if he was married, or if he’d been married, or if he had kids, or if he’d wanted to.
All she knew about Walking Man was that he had an unshakable belief that a giant would win a fight against a mammoth, that he thought Joy Mooton was the greatest singer of the era, that he’d seen every detective movie ever made.
That he’d wrapped himself around her in his sleep, nuzzling his face into the crook of her neck, mumbling her name.
That he thinks I should wear pink if I want to.
So Brienne had no right to be upset that he’d turned out to be a different person to the one she’d made up in her head and attached to his stupidly handsome face and his absurdly sculpted muscles. That he’d turned out to be like all those other people.
She took a deep breath. And I can’t allow myself to be upset. They were stuck here together, for at least another day. The storm-front might have passed, but the wind was still gusting against the storm-shutters and rain pounded the roof. Both would make driving – or walking – dangerous for a while longer. There was only one bed. The pot-belly stove didn’t put out enough heat for them to split the blankets between bed and couch.
Deliberately, she forced herself to look at Jaime. He was sprawled on the couch, picking up one book after another from the bookshelf and leafing through them. One leg was carelessly thrown over the arm of the couch and the firelight from the stove danced over his golden curls.
He looked up. “Are you talking to me again?”
It’s not his fault. It’s my fault. My fault for letting myself …
Letting herself feel safe, was the truth of what she’d done. In Jaime’s company, The Thing That Had Happened, well, it was as if it hadn’t happened. Brienne could be herself with him, the self she’d been Before. She could relax with Jaime, could stop waiting every second for someone to say something that would rip the lid off that deep dark well in the corner of her mind. Cruel, or well-meaning, that didn’t make any difference to the sick feeling in her stomach and the roaring in her ears. Only with Jaime could she stop being on guard.
“Yes.” Her voice sounded very far away. She cleared her throat. “Yes.”
Jaime raised one perfect eyebrow. “Are you going to tell me what I’ve done?”
She glared at him. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
He snorted. “Fine.” He picked up another book and leafed through it. “Is there another Brienne Tarth? Mother, aunt? Cousin?”
He looked up from the book, grinning. “So the Brienne Tarth who wrote her name in the front cover of all these books is you?” Brienne nodded. “Hmm, The Princess and the Pirate. Catchy.” He picked up another of the books. “The Knight’s Prize. Here’s Lady, Disarmed. And The Maester and His Mistress. Oh, this one’s good. The Warden’s Ward.” He chuckled. “Certainly not what I’d have guessed as your taste in literature.”
Brienne shot to her feet, pain and anger blazing through her like a lightning strike, burning every good intention to ash. “Oh, I know. You think saying that makes you clever? You think you’re the first man to point out that I have exactly zero romantic prosects and no right to expect any?”
He stared at her. “Brienne, I –”
“Shut up!” she shouted at him. “I know what I look like, alright? I know. I know how stupid I was to believe him, I know no man would actually really want me, but I am actually still allowed to wish that I wasn’t so ugly, you know!”
Jaime dropped the book he was holding and got to his feet. “Seven Hells, Brienne.”
“You could have just fucking waited until the rain stops, you know? You could have just waited, instead of using this as a chance to make me –”
“Brienne!” Jaime roared, so loudly that she almost thought the cupboards rattled. “I have no fucking idea what you’re talking about.”
She stared at him. “Of course you know. Everyone knows, from Sunspear to the Gift. Even people who don’t care know. It was viral. Everyone with a weirnet connection knows.”
Jaime raked his fingers through his hair. “And when?”
“A year and a bit ago.”
“Well, I have been in prison, or in hospital, or in a prison hospital, or …” The corner of his mouth twitched up. “Or otherwise off the grid, for the past few years. I assure you, I do not know.”
Brienne glared at him. “Oh, so you just otherwise happened to decide that I have no right to read stories of love and romance? Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“No right? Fuck, no.” Jaime leaned down and snatched up the battered paperbacks. “The Knight’s Prize? The Princess and the Pirate? The Warden’s Ward? What I meant is, a lot of these are kind of rapey, and you struck me as more of an enthusiastic-consent-between-equals sort of woman.”
She stared at him. “Really?”
He glared back. “Yes, really, I know I’m a fucking asshole but I’m not blind or stupid enough to think you couldn’t get your leg over any man you chose.”
“Stop making fun of me!” Her eyes threatened to overflow, and Brienne spun away to hide her face from him.
“I’m not fucking making fun of you!” Jaime cried. Something hit the wall. “Seven fucking Hells. I’m in a fucking minefield here, Brienne, and the problem is, every one I set off seems to hurt you. And it might be selfish, but if I’m going to do that, I’d rather it was on fucking purpose.” He heaved a gusty sigh. “I don’t know what I did. I don’t know why you’re upset.”
Brienne sniffed hard. She wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “Why did you even bring up those books in the first place, then?”
“Well I was planning to flirt with you,” Jaime snarled. Brienne turned to stare at him and he gave her a smile that was as sharp as a knife. “Oh, Lady Brienne. You want a man to throw you down and have his wicked way with you?” His voice dropped to a purr. “I could be that man … if you want. I’m strong enough.”
The husky note in his voice slipped straight past her brain, washed over her body and settled warm in her belly. Brienne swallowed hard, mouth suddenly dry. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
He scowled at her. “Yes, obviously, it was a bad idea. I’m a crippled ex-con, a convicted sex-offender, and at least ten years too old for you. It was a momentary impulse, it won’t happen again.”
“No, I mean …” Brienne shrugged. “You don’t need to pretend. It was enough that you didn’t … that you didn’t care. About what happened. You don’t need to pretend … to pretend that they were wrong.”
Jaime looked at her for a long moment. “Brienne.”
“It’s fine!” she said desperately. “It’s fine!”
“I went to jail because I lied and said I raped my sister,” Jaime said on a single hard breath. “So … your turn.”
Chapter 13: Jaime VIII
Truths are told.
This is the chapter for which the warning for past twincest and past non-con most particularly applies. More detailed warnings in the end-notes, so skip down there if you need. Angst forecast: catastrophic
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Brienne stared at him, her brilliant blue eyes wide and shocked. “You –”
“Lied,” Jaime said. He summoned up a facsimile of a smile, poor copy though it was. “Let’s keep the lied part of that sentence front and foremost, shall we?”
She sat down on the bed abruptly. “Why?” She took a shaky breath. “Why would you lie about something like that?”
“Because if it wasn’t rape, and it wasn’t, Cersei would have gone to jail as well. She would have lost custody of her kids.” He shrugged. “Robert, her husband, he’s a drunken thug. He hits her, I know he hit Joff as well. Joff is a little shit who deserves what he gets, but Myrc and Tom are sweet kids. They deserve better.” He stuck his hand in his pocket. “Certainly better than Robert as a sole parent.”
“But …” Brienne paused. “But why would she have gone to jail, if she hadn’t been raped?”
She’s such an innocent. “Because we fucked each other. Every chance we got. From when we were children. One person in two bodies, Cersei always said and I believed her. Each other’s destiny, only complete when we were together. Our mother caught us doing … I don’t even remember what, but it horrified her. She kept us apart, but then …” He shrugged. “She died. Father wasn’t exactly an attentive parent, so we kept at it, until I was sent away to boarding school.” He turned to look at the flickering flames in the stove, unable to bear what he knew would be the disgust in her eyes. “When I graduated, Cersei had the grand plan that I would enlist and be stationed where Father was – she was still living with him, playing the colonel’s lady. I had other plans, but she persuaded me.” He remembered that night as if it were yesterday. They spent it in a cheap motel in Eel Alley, well away from watchful eyes. She’d never been more passionate. Every time I went to sleep, she woke me again. By morning following his father into the army seemed a small price to pay to be near her always.
“What were your other plans?” Brienne asked quietly.
He laughed. “What does that matter? I enlisted. I went to Lhazar. It was a shit-show, far more than anyone knows. When I came back, Cersei was married to Robert. He didn’t love her, she said. He hit her. Forced her. She needed me, she said. We went on like that for – well, until we got careless, and got caught.”
“And you lied.”
“She begged me to. Begged me to protect her, of course I lied. It was one time, I forced her to do it, that’s what I told the Cloaks. Pled guilty in exchange for a shorter sentence.” He gave her a sharp smile. “So you see, I was telling you the truth when I said you should despise me.”
A small line appeared between Brienne’s fair brows. “You didn’t need to tell me that. Any of that.”
“Rather you didn’t know?”
Brienne shook her head. “No. Thank you for trusting me with the truth. But why?”
“Because, Lady Brienne, now you have to tell me something at least as momentous. Those are the rules.”
For a moment he thought she was going to refuse, and then she gave a single decisive nod. “Alright. I need a cup of tea first, though.”
Jaime sank back down onto the couch and watched Brienne filling the kettle. She set it on the stove, crouched to add more wood to the fire, rattled around in the cupboards getting mugs and tea-bags. Then she stood staring at the kettle.
“I need you to swear to me that you don’t know,” she told the kettle. “That this isn’t some stupid idea of Sam’s, to make me talk about it.”
“I swear it,” Jaime said. “By the old gods and the new.” Rumbling thunder emphasised his point, as if he’d been heard and answered.
“Mmm.” The kettle shrilled and she picked it up. “Do you know what a dog-fight is? Not the kind with actual canines.”
“Yes.” A competition. His unit had held one or two, when they were all young and stupid and cruel. Jaime, not willing to even pretend romantic interest for any woman who wasn’t Cersei, hadn’t taken part, but the others Money in the pot, and the man with the ugliest date wins the pool.
“Good.” Brienne poured water into the mugs. She glanced at him with a small, sad smile. “I wasn’t looking forward to explaining it to you. How do you like your tea?”
She brought the mugs over. “Shift your feet.” Jaime did, and she gave him his mug and sat down at the far end of the couch. “So it was a bit like that. But instead of a party, they kept a book. Points allocated for each fuck, over the semester. The uglier the girl, the more points.” She sipped her tea. “The thing is, Dad always told me not to pay attention to the boys at school teasing me about how I looked. He said I’d grow into it and grow up to meet men who’d appreciate me for who I am. So when Hyle and Ron and Mark and the rest started wanting to have lunch with me, sit next to me in class, study with me, I thought they were that. Men, who appreciated me for what I am.” She stared into her mug, the liquid inside shivering with the tremor in her hands. “I didn’t know I was worth a thousand points, a hundred times more than any other girl.”
“What utter cunts,” Jaime said with vicious precision. Brienne gave him a startled glance. “And fools, too. How did you find out?”
“There was this thing that happened.” Her grip on her mug was white-knuckled. “Hyle Hunt, he was … the most persistent, I guess, or the most desperate to win, but he seemed to really like me. He gave me flowers, and stuff. And he wasn’t bad looking. So when he asked me out, I said yes. And it was a nice evening, and he wanted – I mean, I was stupid enough to think he wanted – to maybe be sort of my boyfriend. So when he suggested we go back to his dorm-room and watch a movie after, I said yes.” She swallowed hard. “And when he suggested we make out a bit, I said yes. He wanted to have sex. I wasn’t really … I mean, it all felt a bit too fast, but he said that if I really wanted to be his girlfriend, I’d say yes. So I stopped saying no.”
As soon as the rain hammering on the roof stopped, Jaime was going to find this Hyle and kick the living shit out of him. I’ll get Tyrion to put that investigator of his, Varys, on finding him. He took a breath, making his voice even and calm. “So Kyle Cunt raped you, to win the bet.”
Brienne shook her head. “It wasn’t – I didn’t tell him no. Or to stop. It was a bit uncomfortable, but he didn’t hurt me.” She glanced at him, lips trembling. “I could easily have fought him off if I’d wanted to.” She shrugged. “It was just bad sex, until the thing happened.”
“I beg to differ, but you’re the one who was there.”
“The thing was …” She hunched her shoulders, gaze on the floor. “Hyle had set up his laptop. The other guys had insisted on proof, I guess, because there really was a lot of money at stake and I suppose Hyle could easily have just asked me to lie and split the pot with me. So he was filming us. The other guys were watching in another room. And …” Her voice shook wildly. “The second he rolled off me they burst in. To congratulate him. And I kept trying to get dressed and sort of stupidly asking what was going on, what they were congratulating him for, had he won a scholarship or something and they … explained. About the bet. About how stupid I’d been to imagine for a second any man would want to dip his dick in a freak like me. About how Hyle was the only one mad enough to do it, even with a thousand dragons at stake.” She sniffed hard. “And someone, I don’t know who, put it on RookTube.”
Oh, Brienne. Viral, she’d said. “Couldn’t you get RookTube to take it down?”
She nodded, wiping her cheeks with her sleeve. “But it got put up again. And I got it taken down again. And it got put up again. And then it became a story, you know, lots of people writing about what this said about the ethics of new media and the values of young people today. I was home by then, I left Oldtown the next day. Reporters kept calling the house. When I didn’t want to speak to them, there were stories speculating that I’d been in on the whole thing. That it was staged. That I’d leaked it myself to get attention. Everyone in the world saw it, and everyone in the world had an opinion.” She sniffled. “I couldn’t go back. I can’t go back, not ever.”
“Please tell me at least some of them got custodial sentences.”
Brienne shook her head. “I did talk to the Green Cloaks. They asked me if I was really sure I wanted to ruin the lives of such promising students over a practical joke.” She sniffled again. “And of course because there were no charges, that was another reason for people to say I’d been in on it, or faked it.”
“Did they just,” Jaime said evenly. “And what about the promising student sitting next to me who had her life ruined?” He raked his fingers through his hair. “Fuck, no wonder you went off on me. I would have decked me, if I were you.”
Brienne gave him a watery smile. “I’m glad I didn’t.”
He smiled back. “Well, I’m glad you didn’t, too.”
She heaved a shuddering sigh. “It was nice, not being that girl in the sex tape. While it lasted.”
“First of all, not a girl. A woman, and indeed, a lady. Secondly – oh fuck.” He let his head fall back and stared at the ceiling. “Fucking fuckity fuck.”
Brienne turned to him. “What’s wrong?”
He turned to look at her. “I’ve caught your fucking list-making, that’s what’s wrong.”
This chapter recounts Jaime and Cersei’s canonical twincest, and a version of the bet on Brienne’s virginity, in which the assholes are competing for points on how many ‘ugly’ girls they can have sex with. Hyle films himself with Brienne as proof, and it ends up on the internet. And, I’m sorry to have to add, it’s entirely based on something that happened pretty much exactly like this at one of our own esteemed educational institutions.
Chapter 14: Brienne VI
Talking. Cleaning. Banter.
Angst forecast: clearing
Jaime turned to look at her, the corner of his mouth twitching up. “I’ve caught your fucking list-making, that’s what’s wrong.”
Despite everything, despite the fact that she was now that girl in the sex-tape to Jaime as well as to everyone else, Brienne found herself returning his smile. Her chest ached from supressing the urge to sob, but somehow she felt lighter, too, at the same time. Sam might have been right. “Oh, no. How will you survive?”
“I’m sure there’s a cure.”
“Might not be. You could be condemned to a lifetime of making lucid, well-organised arguments.”
He snorted. “So that’s what the kids are calling it these days.” His smile faded. “Brienne. You are so much more than that woman in the sex tape. It was a shitty thing for those assholes to do, and I can absolutely understand that it’s made you hate the entire world –”
“I don’t hate anyone,” Brienne said. “I just … I can’t stand it. That they know. That they saw.” That you know.
“You should definitely hate Kyle Cunt,” Jaime said. “I certainly do. That’s why you spent the summer up here, isn’t it? It was right after it all happened?” Brienne nodded. “What did you do with yourself? Lots of yoga and mediation?”
Brienne shrugged. “I slept, mostly.” And cried. “And I’ll always be that girl in the sex tape. Nothing ever disappears from the weirnet. That’ll be me for the rest of my life. Everyone I ever meet, the second they search on 3ER … there I’ll be, the ugly chick too stupid to understand just how hideously freakish she is.”
Jaime shook his head without raising it from the back of the couch. “You might want to consider that your dad was right, you know.”
She snorted. “It was just a kind lie, Jaime. The kind you tell an ugly girl so she doesn’t take the teasing so much to heart.”
“Or,” Jaime said, “First year Citadel students aren’t the best place to look for maturity and grown-ups.” He smiled. “I guarantee you, army recruits of the equivalent age most certainly are not. You are kind, you are brave –”
“I can’t even make myself go into Morne for a drink!”
“You drove into a storm to save my life,” Jaime retorted. “You are the very definition of the ever-fixed mark –”
Brienne sucked in an astonished breath. “How did you know?”
Jaime frowned. “Know what?”
“Those are our words. Ever-fixed. Our House words.”
His eyes widened. “Willem Stackspeare did spend a year on Tarth as a court poet.”
She frowned. “The old playwright?”
“And poet. Love is an ever-fixed mark, who looks on tempests and is never shaken. Love’s the star to every wandering bark …” He grinned. “When I first read that, I thought a wandering bark was a small lost dog.” Brienne laughed. “But it also means a lost ship. That finds its way home by a fixed star.” He raised his eyebrows. “Sounds like old Willem had a bit of a thing for the Evenstar of the day. Good for them.” He paused. “What was I saying, before you distracted me?”
“And here’s why it helps to have a list,” Brienne said dryly.
Jaime laughed. “First of all, Lady Brienne, the purpose of a list is to stop the other person answering any of your points until you’ve finished. Secondly –” Brienne snorted. “Secondly. I think what I was trying to say is that there are quite a few things about you that someone who wasn’t an immature dick whose experience with women is limited to pornography might happen to find pretty attractive.”
Brienne snorted again. “Right.”
“Well, it was me trying to hit on you that kicked off this little session of truth-telling,” Jaime said. He raised his hand. “I won’t do it again, I promise. You don’t need to worry that you’ll have to fight off the crippled sister-fucker –”
“Is that why you’re here?” Brienne studied her hands.
“Because I fancy you? I’m here because you dragged me out of a typhoon or whatever you call them here.” He chuckled. “The fancying you is just an extra complication.”
“Here on Tarth, I mean.” She stole a glance at him. “Was it … are you not allowed to see her, is that why you … why you’re Walking Man?”
Jaime snorted. “Allowed, as if that would have stopped me. I went to her, straight to her, as soon as they let me out. She … ” He shook his head. “She told me I’d been away too long. As it turns out, she’d replaced me, her precious other half, in her bed. With our cousin, for one, and many, many others.”
Brienne stared. “But you … you went to jail for her.”
“Well, I copped a higher sentence for her, at least. And then …” He raised his right arm. “Got out early due to certain concerns over legal liability.” Abruptly, he heaved himself to his feet. “Could I borrow your rain-gear, do you think? I promise I won’t wander off into the storm, but it sounds like the wind has died down quite a bit, and …”
And you’re claustrophobic. Brienne nodded. “It’s in the garage, on the hooks to the left of the door.” She got up as well. “I’ll open the garage door for you.”
“I can do it,” Jaime said. “Just tell me how. You stay warm.”
Brienne hesitated. “You won’t go too far?”
“Just outside.” He gave her a small smile. “I just need some air.”
“The chain’s on the side of door. Pull the side closest to the door to open, other side to close.”
She watched carefully, but Jaime didn’t take his phone with him, which reassured her he wasn’t going to try to hike off into the weakening storm in search of reception. Once he’d gone out, Brienne washed her face, blew her nose, and busied herself tidying up the cottage. It took only a few moments to wash the mugs and remake the bed. It took only a few moment longer to break down Jaime’s tent and pack it up properly. She found a cloth and dusted everything in sight, and then swept the floor. She scrubbed the sink until the battered old stainless steel shone. She stoked up the fire again. She did not think about the fact that she was now that girl in the sex tape to Jaime as well as everyone else. She did not think about the fact that he’d admitted to flirting with her, before he knew, or that he’d found an excuse to not to, once he did. She thought about dirt, and dust, and water spots, and nothing else.
She was in the middle of taking all the cans out of the pantry cupboard, wiping them, and putting them back when Jaime returned.
“Safe and well,” he said. “And only slightly damp around the edges. It’s still blowing, but nowhere near as hard as before. I went as far as the fence, and then I swear I saw a sheep sailing past, so I decided discretion was the better part of valour.”
Brienne snorted. “Probably Seasmoke, on one of his escape runs.” She looked up at him. “Dad’s prize ram. Not fond of fences.”
“I know the feeling,” Jaime said. “Can I give you a hand with that? And I do mean that quite literally, only having a hand to begin with.”
Brienne shook her head. “No, it’s fine.”
Jaime leaned against the counter, fidgeting, for a moment. “Is there something else I could do, then? Chop some firewood? I won’t be very speedy at it, but I’ll have a try.”
“I can do it later.”
He sighed. “Will you find me something, then? Because going outside helped but I’m already beginning to feel like I need to crawl out of my own skin again.”
She sat back on her heels and looked up at him. “Your meds. Are they in your pack?”
He shook his head. “Sam’s finally allowed me to wean myself off them, and it wasn’t a fun enough experience for me to want to repeat it.”
“Have you ever tried meditation?”
Jaime laughed. “Lady Brienne, have you met me? Do I seem like the type to try meditation? Besides, it doesn’t work.”
Brienne scowled at him. “How do you know it doesn’t work if you haven’t tried it?”
“Because you’ve tried it, and right now instead of mediating you’re dusting canned goods.” He crouched down beside her and took the tin from her hand. “Oh, alphabetti, Tyrion used to love these.” He smiled, soft and fond, his whole face lighting up. “He used to pick the letters out of his bowl and make sentences on the tabletop. Used to send our nanny spare.”
“I could …” Brienne had to look away from his brilliant green eyes. She cleared her throat. “Heat some up for you? If you’d like.”
He reached past her and put the can back in the cupboard. “I’d like you to find a way to distract me from the fact that we’re stuck here for a while longer, and no, I didn’t mean that as innuendo.” He paused. “Please.”
“There’s a cyvasse set somewhere, we could play?”
Jaime shook his head. “Doesn’t help. That was Tyrion’s prescription, alcohol and cyvasse, and neither worked.”
“Meditation –” Jaime shot her a glance and Brienne sighed. “Alright, not mediation, but it would help you slow your heart-rate, which helps with anxiety –” Slow his heart-rate. “We could do some yoga.”
Jaime raised his right arm. “I tend to fall over during downward dog.”
Brienne narrowed her eyes at him. “Do you want me to help you, or not? I know all this stuff is touchy-feely – ”
His eyebrows rose. “Oh, well played. Fine. Teach me to meditate.”
She scowled. “Not if you’re just going to mock me the whole time.”
Jaime gave her one of his brilliant, beautiful smiles. “Of course I am. Your irritation with me will distract you from the urge to clean every inch of this place, twice. And my amusement at irritating you will take my mind of the fact that I can’t get out-fucking-doors.”
His smile was so lovely it was impossible for Brienne not to smile back. “Alright. Take off your boots and go and sit on the bed.”
Chapter 15: Jaime IX
Jaime tries meditation.
Angst forecast: some showers
Jaime pulled off his boots and sat on the bed. He tucked his feet under him in his best approximation of an Essosi guru’s pose, his hand on his knee and his stump hidden under his thigh. “Is this correct, Maester Brienne?”
She snorted. “I’m not a maester.”
“Closer to one than anyone on this island but Sam,” Jaime countered.
“Not, in fact, true.” Brienne sat down on the bed beside him and folded her legs beneath her with easy grace. “There’s also Gilly, and Endrew, and Red Abelar might be retired but he can still splint a leg in an emergency.”
“Is there a Green Abelar?” Jaime asked as innocently as he could, and was rewarded with Brienne’s smile. “Or Blue?”
“There was an Old Abelar, but he died before I was born.” Brienne put her hand over his. “Close your eyes. Concentrate on your breathing.”
Jaime took a deep breath and blew it out. “I know, empty my mind, so on, so forth.”
“No,” Brienne said. Jaime opened his eyes again in surprise. She smiled at him, her astoundingly blue eyes soft. “That’s not really possible. Just notice when your mind wanders, and turn your thoughts back to your breathing.” She squeezed his fingers. “Close your eyes.”
Jaime closed his eyes. He took another deep breath. Brienne’s fingers were warm and gentle over his. Concentrate on my breathing. That was easy enough to do. After all, he’d aced every interrogation course in special ops training. If there’s one thing I know how to do, it’s control my own mind. He breathed in and out, he paid attention to his breath and nothing but his breath, and certainly not to Brienne’s strong and calloused hand holding his so tenderly, her thumb stroking the back of his hand. He breathed, and thought about nothing but his breathing, feeling each inhale and exhale vibrate through his fingers as they were cradled in Brienne’s. The rain on the roof, the wind still gusting against the walls, faded away. There was nothing in the world but his breath, whispering over Brienne’s skin, nothing but her breath, soft against the crackle of the fire in the stove. Nothing but her hand, wrapped around his; nothing but her voice. It was almost like falling asleep, while remaining awake. Calm settled over him, warm and peaceful.
Floating in that feeling, he raised his other hand to cover hers –
Shit. He yanked his right arm away from her, eyes flying open. Brienne opened her own eyes, staring at him in confusion. Shit. Shit. He jerked away from her, scrambling off the bed. “Sorry. Sorry. Fuck, I’m sorry.”
“Jaime?” Brienne frowned. “Jaime, what’s –”
“I’m sorry.” He turned away from her, tucking his right arm under his left. “I – sometimes I forget. About … sometimes for a moment I think I still have two hands. I’m really sorry, I’ll be more careful.”
“Does it hurt?” Brienne’s voice was very gentle.
“But it must be very startling, when it happens.”
It was startling, as well as revolting, so Jaime nodded, keeping his back to her so he wouldn’t have to see the disgust in her face, have to watch her using the blanket to scrub away the touch of his grotesque and repulsive stump.
“It might help if I massage it a bit,” Brienne said, and he turned to stare at her. She gave him a small smile. “I’ll be very gentle, I promise. There are theories that it can help, though.” She held out her hand. “It might be worth a try.”
Jaime stayed where he was. “Theories that massage can make me smarter enough to remember I’ve lost a hand?”
Brienne let her hand fall. “Have you talked to Sam about it? Your other maesters?” Jaime shook his head. “So no-one at all talked to you about phantom limb syndrome?” He shook his head again, and Brienne frowned. “I don’t think much of the maesters who took care of you when it happened.”
Jaime snorted. “Prison, remember? I spent a little while chained to a bed in the Baelor, then they kicked me back to the prison infirmary the second I looked unlikely to die.” That had been the first time, but Jaime had no intention of going into the details of being dragged back to the Baelor and stuffed full of anti-depressants after some keen-eyed warden had finally realised how long it had been since Prisoner 2239 had actually eaten something.
“Well, it’s very common to have sensations in a missing limb. Sometimes people feel pain, but it isn’t always pain.” Brienne shrugged a little. “And if you can feel your hand, if your nervous system believes your hand is there, it seems very natural to me that you’d instinctively try to use it. There are some theories, not backed up with a whole lot of clinical evidence I admit, that the more you adjust to the sensations you actually have now, the less the … left-over feelings, I guess you could call them. The less they’ll bother you. I promise I won’t hurt you.”
Jaime shook his head. “It’s kind of you to offer, but I won’t put you through that.”
She frowned. “Put me through what?”
“Don’t try and pretend,” he snapped. “I know just how disgusting it is.”
Her amazing blue eyes went very wide. “Is that what you think?”
“That’s what I know,” he spat at her. “When I went to see Cersei, I reached for her. With this.” He held his sickening stump up. “You know that face someone makes when they throw up in their mouth a little? Well, that.”
“Jaime.” Brienne unfolded herself, stood up and strode around the foot of the bed. She reached out, and before Jaime could pull away, wrapped both her hands around his stump without any hesitation. He froze, staring at the sight. “This is not disgusting. You are not disgusting. Look at me.” Jaime managed to tear his gaze away from her fingers resting against his scars and look up to her face. She smiled at him. “Do I look the least bit revolted?”
“No,” Jaime whispered. Nor did she look as if she pitied him, which might somehow have been even worse. She only looked concerned, and sympathetic. And kind.
“Come and sit down again.” She tugged him gently to the bed. He sank down, and she sat beside him. “Tell me if I hurt you at all, even just discomfort.” She traced the worst of the scars, the puckered one that extended past his wrist. “Is that alright?” Jaime nodded. “Are you alright?”
“Actually, not sure I am,” Jaime admitted, his voice shaking a little despite his best effort to keep it steady. The urge to pull his arm back, to push her away, warred with an inchoate longing for her to keep touching him so tenderly, or even for more. “I’m not, I think.”
“I imagine it’s a lot.” Brienne let go of his arm, gently and slowly. She turned to face him, tucking her feet under her again. “How about if you touch me, with your right arm? When you feel ready to.” She put her hands on the bed between them, palms up.
Jaime tucked his stump under his left arm. “Not sure I can.”
“That’s fine,” she said calmly. “Nothing bad will happen if you do, and nothing bad will happen if you don’t. Do you want to try the breathing exercises again?”
“It did actually help,” Jaime admitted. “Don’t look so smug.” In fact, she didn’t look smug at all, beaming at him with delighted happiness. He took her hand with his. “You need to go back to the Citadel, you know.” Brienne’s smile vanished, and she tried to pull her hand away. Jaime tightened his grip. “Or find some way to study over the weirnet, at least.”
“I can’t,” she said stiffly. “You know why I can’t.” She tried to free her hand from his grasp again. “Let go, please.”
He held on a heartbeat longer, and then released her. Brienne shifted away from him, drawing up her knees to her chest. “You’re good at this,” Jaime said. “And it makes you happy. It makes you happy because you’re stupidly kind, and because you’re good at it, and because you like helping people. So you really need to find a way to do it.”
She glared at him. “I know I’m good at it. But even if I did get some special permission to study remotely, how can I expect anyone to come to a wellness retreat run by me? Everyone will see my name and the first thing they’ll think of –”
Jaime shook his head. “Build a bridge over that river when you come to it. Find a way to finish your studies, and worry about the rest of it later.” He shrugged. “So you never open that retreat. Or not for rich people, anyway. Get in touch with the Master of War’s office and offer Evenfall Hall as a rehab facility for veterans. The old gods and the new know there’s plenty of us fucked up enough to benefit from a little kindness.”
“They’ll know, too.”
Jaime snorted. “Brienne. They probably will. And I guarantee you that the fucked-up shit they’ve seen, done, enabled, absolutely eclipses it.” She’d moved too far away from him for Jaime to take her hand again, so he put his hand on her foot. “I had a C.O. – a commanding officer – who used wildfire to interrogate prisoners. Do you think any of his soldiers would give a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut that some assholes humiliated you on the weirnet if they thought you could help them not think about the screaming for maybe five minutes at a time?”
Brienne stared at him. “Wildfire?”
Oh, shit. Jaime let go of her foot. He raked his fingers through his hair. “That’s … I wasn’t supposed to tell you that. I mean, really officially not supposed to tell you. Or anyone.”
She hugged her knees to her chest. “Well, you’ve started now. Maybe you should go on.”
Chapter 16: Brienne VII
Jaime tells Brienne a secret.
Angst forecast: moderate to high
“I think that’s probably a terrible idea,” Jaime said. He smiled, and it wasn’t one his lovely smiles that lit up his face. There was a sharpness to it that it hurt to see. “Not just because I don’t want to go back to jail. I also don’t want you to have the Master of War’s lawyers crawling up your arse trying to determine whether or not you’re enough of a security risk to need pre-emptive imprisonment.”
Brienne shrugged. “How would they know? Unless you told them. Or I did.”
“Or you slipped up, and mentioned it to someone, who posted about it on the weirnet.”
“Do you really think I’d be that careless?”
His expression softened. “No, actually, Lady Brienne, I don’t. But …” He shook his head. “They buried it all as deep as they could. Did their best to make sure not even the Horn of Joramun could wake it. It involved … well, let’s just say it involved someone whose reputation everyone was fairly invested in protecting. Not so much now, given he’s very dead and so is his promising son, but old habits die hard in the Master of War’s office.”
“I won’t tell anyone. I swear it by the old gods and the new,” Brienne said. “I’ll do the Seven, too, if you like. May I never know the Mother’s mercy if I break this oath. May the Maiden keep me from all touch of love. May the Warrior strike me down if I fail my word. May –”
He raised his hand, smiling. “Peace. I trust your word.”
Brienne forced herself to loosen her grip on her legs. She tucked them underneath her again, deliberately making her posture open and receptive. “You don’t need to tell me anything you don’t want to. But I feel as if you wouldn’t have mentioned it if you didn’t want to talk about it.”
Jaime raised his eyebrows. “Excellent shrink language. Clearly you got that far in your degree. And you’re wrong. I don’t talk about it. Ever. Well.” Jaime shrugged. “There was an official debrief, that does tend to happen when you shoot your C.O. in the head.” The corner of his mouth twitched up. “Don’t think I’m not aware you’re doing this to stop me talking about your degree. Is that ethical, Maester Brienne?”
“Probably not,” Brienne admitted. “But I’m not a maester.”
“Yet,” Jaime shot back. “How about this? I’ll show you yours if you show me mine.” Her mouth dropped open, and he grinned. “I mean, I’ll satisfy your curiosity if you satisfy mine.”
Brienne shook her head. “You already know everything important about me.” You already know I’m the girl in that sex tape.
“I beg to differ,” Jaime countered. “I know your favourite colour is pink. What’s your favourite food?”
She blinked at him. “Lamb sandwich. That’s not a real question.”
“My question, my rules.” Jaime pointed at her. “Your turn.”
“I thought wildfire was an exfoliant,” Brienne said carefully. Lead up to the real questions slowly. “How can you use it to interrogate someone?”
“Defoliant,” Jaime corrected. “We dropped it from helicopters, used it to clear heavy underbrush, or whole forests sometimes. Although it does have a fairly extreme exfoliant effect on human skin, I suppose. It’s sticky, and flammable. Very flammable. Aerys Targaryen had a penchant for burning people alive.” He gave her a sharp-edged smile. “Now you see why they were so keen to cover the whole thing up. Rheaghar was still alive, you see, still the golden boy destined for great things.”
Brienne nodded. She’d just been a kid when Rheaghar Targaryen died, but she remembered the wall-to-wall media coverage, even the Tarth Times devoting four pages to the man they dubbed The Prince Who Was Promised. A future Prime Minister, certainly a lock on a Small Council position, inheriting Dragonstone from his war-hero father. Not such a war hero, it seems. “The stigma about mental illness … people would have wondered if he was stable.”
“My turn,” Jaime said. “Who was your first crush?”
“That’s a bit personal!” Brienne objected.
“Oh, and how I fragged my C.O. is what, then?” He shook his head. “Spill the beans, Lady Brienne. A boy at school? A movie star? A musician?”
She chewed her lip. “I used to swim, I mean, for the school. And there was this boy, Renly, on the team from Storm’s End, I used to see him at the meets. He was always nice to me, he never teased me. Told off the ones who did. He always asked me to dance at the parties at the end of the competition.”
“And he was handsome, too, I bet. Strapping young lad with those swimmer’s shoulders …” Jaime chuckled. “Did you ever tell him?”
Brienne smiled. “No. He was handsome, curly black hair, blue eyes … handsome, and kind, and friendly, and very, very gay. That was two questions, so I get two as well.” She paused, thinking. “How long did it take you to decide to kill Ser Targaryen –”
“Don’t call him that,” Jaime said quickly. “Call him Aerys, or the madman, or that fucking cunt. I might not much deserve my rank, but he deserves none.”
“How long did it take you to decide to kill him?”
“Nearly two years.” Jaime smiled without humour. “I stood by and did nothing for nearly two years. He was my C.O. I was following his orders. They were the enemy, or so I told myself. I was doing my job … that’s what I told myself to excuse my cowardice.”
“You must have been very young, and very junior,” Brienne said. “Was there no way for you to report it to someone higher up?”
Jaime snorted. “They knew. Everybody knew. Aerys got results, you see. And …” He shrugged. “You can’t wage war on people if you let yourself continue to think of them as people, can you? So I just … put my mind somewhere else. Pretended I was at home. Thought about Cersei, thought about teaching Tyrion to read, thought about going drinking with Addam with our fake I.D.s in school. And did nothing.”
The bitterness in his voice was unbearable. Brienne reached out and took his left hand in both hers. “That wasn’t your fault. You were doing the best you could in an impossible situation.”
He stared down at their linked hands. “I could have put a bullet in his brain on the first day.”
She squeezed his fingers. “Taking a life isn’t easy, even for a trained soldier. It’s a big line to make yourself cross.”
Jaime gave her a small smile. “Well, I crossed it, eventually.” He heaved a sigh. “Sure you want to hear the rest? It’s not pretty.”
“I’m sure, if you want to tell me.”
He looked at her a long moment. “Then you have to tell me something, after. Several somethings, and I get to choose.”
“Alright,” Brienne agreed. “What happened?”
He closed his eyes, his grip tightening on her hands. “We were in the middle of this month-long operation, burning through what was thought to be the enemy’s stronghold, this deep forest where foot patrol was a death sentence. So the plan was to clear it. Force them out or …” His mouth twisted. “Burn them in it. Aerys, of course, loved it. He made a point of riding along for just about every mission. Insisted his callsign was Dragon, insisted we call him that and nothing else. He used to get … excited.” He opened his eyes. “By watching the fire. Standing there by the window with a fucking hard-on.” He shivered. “I was his aide by then, he demanded I go with him. He didn’t want me out of his sight, perhaps he could tell I was reaching the end of my rope. This one day …” Another tremor ran through him. “We finished early, there was still wildfire in the tanks. We turned back and Aerys saw this village, just a village, outside the target zone, yes they were probably sympathisers but who wouldn’t be, given we were the foreign invaders? And Aerys … ” Jaime shook his head. “Burn them all, he said. Burn them in their homes. Burn them in their beds. Burn them all. I begged him to reconsider. I ordered the pilots to veer away. I ordered the gunners to stand down.” His fingers tightened on hers to the point of pain. “I ranked everyone on that aircraft, you see. Except Aerys. So I shot him.”
“You did the right thing, Jaime. I know it might not feel like it –”
He shot her a startled look. “Not feel like it? It was the best act of my life. He wouldn’t have stopped, you know. Once he’d torched one village, there would have been more, and more. I’m ashamed of many things in my life, Brienne, of being fooled by Cersei’s claims of love, of not doing enough to protect my brother when he was little, but the only thing that I’m ashamed about when it comes to Aerys Targaryen that it took me so long to do it.”
“Why does no-one know? I mean, I understand then, with Rheaghar, but surely you’re not the only one to know? Why has no-one sold the story to one of the papers? To Bryden Rivers and his TV show?”
“To admit you know,” Jaime said quietly, “means to admit you knew. Rheaghar’s prospects would be the only ones damaged if all this came out. Arthur Dayne, Barristan Selmy …”
Brienne stared at him. “The Master of War himself?”
He nodded. “So. You see. It never happened. State funeral for him, half-heard whispered rumours for me … Don’t tell anyone, Brienne the brave, even if you don’t believe me.” He paused. “Do you believe me? Curse me, or kiss me, or call me a liar, but say something.”
Chapter 17: Jaime X
Brienne has an idea
Angst forecast: intermittent showers
“I believe you,” Brienne said. Her blue eyes were devastatingly clear and honest. “I believe you, Jaime.”
It shouldn’t have mattered. It hadn’t mattered when Cersei had cut off his faltering efforts to explain what had happened so she could complain about her husband; it hadn’t mattered that he couldn’t tell Tyrion; it hadn’t mattered that their father had assumed Jaime had done it as a calculated measure to move up in the ranks.
It shouldn’t have mattered, that this absurdly tall blue-eyed yoga teacher from a nothing island in the middle of nowhere believed him. It doesn’t matter, he told himself, his eyes burning. It doesn’t matter at all.
The sincere sympathy in her face was unbearable. “My turn,” he said desperately. He had to clear his throat to go on. “That was the deal.”
“Alright,” Brienne said. Her voice was very gentle. “Alright, Jaime, alright.”
He couldn’t stand the tenderness in her gaze another second. Tearing his hand away, he launched himself off the bed. “Tea?”
Filling the kettle and setting it to boil, adding more wood to the fire, finding mugs and teabags, all of it gave Jaime reason to keep his head down and avoid Brienne’s blue-eyed gaze. “Sounds like the rain’s really easing up.”
“The fords will still be impassable until at least tomorrow,” Brienne said. “Sorry.”
“It’s only one night,” Jaime said as lightly as he could. The kettle began to hiss and he took it from the heat. “Do you take sugar?”
He pulled a face, but added the spoonfuls when the tea had stopped steeping. “Your teeth will rot,” he said as he handed the mug to her.
Brienne smiled. “I always brush.” She sipped. “What did you want to ask me?”
He went back for his own mug. “Well …” He paused, choosing his words more carefully than he’d been used to doing for quite some time. “Would you consider letting me talk to Tyrion – when I can talk to Tyrion – and finding out what legal options you might have?”
A small upright line appeared between her eyebrows. “Legal options?”
Jaime sat down beside her. “Against Kyle Cunt, and the rest.”
She stiffened. “It’s too late to go to the Cloaks again.”
“Maybe not. And maybe you’ve got some options under civil law, as well.” He shrugged. “Tyrion would know.”
“I just want to –”
“Pretend it never happened, yes.” He raised his eyebrows. “I’m familiar with the concept.” He stooped to set his mug on the floor by his feet so he could take her hand. “The thing is, Brienne, it did happen. They did hurt you. And if you can find a way to make them pay for it, you should.”
She shook her head, but at least she didn’t pull away from him. “It won’t change anything.”
“It might. For you.” He squeezed her fingers. “What’s the worst that could happen? You said everyone in Westeros and beyond knows about it. They’re not going to know about it more, are they?”
“Would it make a difference if … if you could make the army admit the truth about Aerys?”
“Fuck, yes,” Jaime said. “I’m pretty sure, for one thing, it would have made a difference to my sentencing, which might have seen me get out before this –” He held up his stump.
“Then why don’t you try?”
He snorted. “Did you miss the part about Barristan Selmy?” Jaime shook his head. “No. Not an option. Whereas I’m fairly confident that the young bravos who abused you don’t have the Small Council behind them.”
Brienne bit her lip. “One of them was … was Ron Connington. The heir.”
Jaime made a mental note of the name. “So, he’s rich. That means good lawyers. Good lawyers don’t guarantee a win, though. And Tyrion’s no slouch himself.” He paused. “So that’s why you only buy Hot Pie’s brand.”
The corner of Brienne’s mouth turned up. “Not much chop as revenge.”
“Not nearly as good as taking his entire inheritance, no,” Jaime agreed. He grinned at her. “That would be a nice dramatic irony, wouldn’t it? Refurbish Evenfall Hall and fund your Wellness Centre with cash from one of the assholes who got in the way of your original plan. So, can I talk to Tyrion about it? I promise he won’t be a dick to you. Or about you. And it doesn’t commit you to do anything, even if he thinks you have a case.”
Brienne eyed him doubtfully. “I’m not sure it’s a good idea.”
Jaime let go of her hand with a final squeeze and picked up his cooling tea. “Think about it. It doesn’t have an expiration date.”
“I’ll think about it, if you tell me your plan for the winter,” Brienne countered. “Because camping, on Tarth, does have an annual expiration date.”
Jaime sighed. “Dorne, I suppose. Or the Reach.” He launched himself to his feet and strode to the window, which was pointless, because the storm-shutters made it impossible to see out. “I can’t winter indoors.” He swung around to glare at her. “And don’t tell me that yoga or breathing exercises will fix me.”
“I wasn’t going to,” Brienne said. “I was going to say that we’ve got a big old barn out the back of Evenfall Hall. We park the trucks in there when there’s weather coming, it’s sound, it’s solid. It has three walls left, and keeps off most of the wind, and the rain.” She shrugged a little. “There might be a way to set your tent up in there where you can still see the sky.” She smiled. “But I hear Dorne is nice, this time of year.”
Jaime snorted. “Dorne is full of sand. I hate sand. We did four weeks of basic in Dorne and I had sand everywhere, I’ll spare your blushes and not detail what that entailed.” Brienne did in fact blush at that, and Jaime grinned. “Fairly sure the women in my unit had it worse, but I’ve never since been able to watch that beach scene in From Here To Infinity without wincing.” He paused. “I don’t know if it’ll work, your barn idea.”
“You could try.” Brienne drew her legs up to her chest and hugged her knees. “For a night. And see.”
I could, I suppose. And fuck, he did not want to go to Dorne, or even the Reach. Neither of them were Tarth, neither of them would have deep green grass and brilliant blue skies and seas and vistas so beautiful he could sit and stare at them for hours at a time. “How bad are these storms, anyway?”
“Did I mention we move our trucks to be inside stone walls?” Brienne said, so dryly Jaime couldn’t help but smile.
“And now I know why Tarth is so wonderfully uninhabited.” He finished the last of his tea. “Without the weather, you’d be over-run by the great and the good looking for the perfect spot for their weekender.”
“No we wouldn’t.” Brienne gave him a small smile. “The Evenstar would never allow it. We like our island the way it is.”
Jaime raised his eyebrows. “Then why didn’t you evict me as soon as I turned up?”
Brienne shrugged. “You weren’t hurting anyone. And one shaggy Walking Man in a tent isn’t exactly on par with a dozen giant mansions.”
He crossed to the sink and put his mug in it. “And the extra-nice Tarths of Tarth wouldn’t have been able to keep an eye on me and feed me delicious sandwiches and salads. And I’ve been beginning to suspect that Fat Endrew’s hens are not magically over-laying. Is there some kind of curse on the island, that dooms its inhabitants to kindness?”
“Not much of a curse, that.”
Jaime snorted. “It is when you let someone like me take advantage of you.”
“If you’re trying to piss me off so you can use some of that adrenaline from your anxiety in fighting with me, it’s not going to work,” Brienne said calmly. “For one thing, choosing to be nice to someone brings psychological rewards, so we’re actually all selfishly helping ourselves. For another, I actually enjoyed talking to you, most of the time.”
Enjoyed. The past tense stung. “But not any more, now you know about Aerys,” he snapped. “Or is it Cersei? Or both?”
“Now you know,” Brienne said.
He frowned. “Know what?”
She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t try to play me for a patch-faced fool. You know what I did, how stupid I was – ”
Jaime stared at her. “What you did? Fuck me, Brienne. You did nothing but come to the perfectly reasonable conclusion that a guy being nice to you wanted to get into your pants, preferably more than once.”
Brienne snorted. “That is not a reasonable conclusion. Look at me!”
“I am looking at you.” He paused. “Brienne. No, you don’t look like a supermodel. But you’re kind, and brave, and funny, and you have gorgeous eyes and great legs. You might not appeal to every man, but few women do.” He shrugged. “I can’t imagine Sam had to beat them off with a stick, but from what he’s said, he and Gilly are pretty happy together. And if you’re worried that I’m going to start treating you differently, don’t.” He grinned at her. “I’m not nice, in case you haven’t noticed. So don’t expect any pity on my part. I will, I promise, be nice enough not to try to flirt with you again, and I’ll take the couch tonight so you don’t need to share a bed with me, but that is the absolute outer limit of my consideration.”
“We don’t have enough blankets for you to sleep on the couch.”
“I have an all-seasons sleeping bag. And I’ll sleep on the couch.”
She looked down at her hands, lip trembling. “Because –”
“Because like every other ranking officer in the service, I did my mandated training on how to handle disclosure of a sexual assault, and I think I’d remember pretty clearly if it included hitting on the victim and then insisting on sharing a bed with them.” Brienne shot him a startled glance and Jaime raked his fingers through his hair. “And no, I can’t pretend you never told me, but no, it doesn’t change anything I think about you. You’re a very nice woman with some extremely irritating personality traits and intermittently terrible taste in movies. Something shit happened to you, well.” He shrugged, holding up his stump. “Something shit happened to me. Unlike the other shit parts of my life, this wasn’t actually my fault, and what happened to you wasn’t yours.”
She chewed on her lip. “I shouldn’t have –”
“They shouldn’t have. Brienne.” He sat back down beside her and put his hand on her knee. “Let me tell you something about men that a high-born lady of your tender years might not know. It’s actually extremely easy not to rape anyone. It’s extremely easy not to sexually exploit anyone. And, believe it or not, it’s extraordinarily easy not to upload non-consensual recordings onto RookTube.” That got a tiny smile from her. “So maybe you should be the one talking to Sam. What was that list you reeled off at me before? Hostility, isolation, negative thoughts?”
Brienne put her hand over his. “I know. How does that saying go? Maester, heal thyself.”
“Maybe you should try meditation,” Jaime said gravely, and was rewarded by her glorious laugh.
Chapter 18: Brienne VIII
Jaime is trying to be a gentleman, and it's annoying
Angst forecast: fairly low.
Smut forecast: rising.
On the couch, Jaime turned over again with a noisy rustle of his sleeping bag. He can’t be comfortable. Jaime was nearly as tall as Brienne herself, and the couch was designed to seat two.
She cleared her throat. “Jaime? You can come over here, if you like. It won’t make me uncomfortable.”
“No need.” He sighed. “I’m not going to sleep anyway.”
“You could have slightly more comfortable insomnia, though,” Brienne suggested, and smiled when he chuckled. “Really, it won’t bother me. It didn’t bother me this morning.”
Jaime snorted. “I was weak as a kitten this morning.”
“I’m pretty sure I could take you even at full strength,” Brienne said dryly. “And anyway, I trust you.”
“You’ve no reason to.”
“You’re over there trying to get comfortable with your legs hanging off one side of the couch and your head hanging over the other, just so I might not feel nervous about sharing a bed with you,” Brienne pointed out. “Fairly sure you’re alright with boundaries.”
“I was all over you like a rash this morning,” Jaime shot back.
“You were cold, and I didn’t mind.”
He was silent a moment. “You didn’t?”
“I was cold too. Come over here, and stop keeping me awake with your tossing and turning.”
“I’ll lie still –”
Brienne raised herself on her elbow. “Jaime, I can’t possibly sleep knowing how uncomfortable you are,” she snapped. “So will you just come here?”
“You’re very bossy, Lady Brienne,” Jaime said with a chuckle. He unzipped the sleeping bag and flung it off in a great susurration of nylon. “I suppose as the Evenstar’s daughter, you’re accustomed to command.”
“Or I might just be bossy by nature,” Brienne retorted. “Put some more wood in the stove while you’re up.”
“Your true motive revealed.” Jaime padded over to the stove and stooped to add another few sticks of firewood. Even in the dim, flickering firelight, his grace and strength was so apparent that Brienne rolled over to put her back to him before he could catch her staring. “I would have been chivalrous enough to stoke the fire if you’d simply asked, there was no need for you to –”
“Oh, shut up.” Brienne reached behind her and flipped the covers back. “And get in.”
“Yes, my lady.” The mattress gave a little as Jaime lay down. He drew the blankets over himself. “Don’t worry. I’ll stay on this side of the bed. And keep still.”
Brienne rolled over again. Jaime was lying rigid, staring up at the ceiling. She could feel the tension radiating from him. “Is it very bad?”
“Which answer will make you shut up and go to sleep?” Jaime snarled.
“Jaime.” She put her hand on his arm, and then pulled it back when he shuddered at her touch. “Do you want to try meditating again?”
“I have been trying!” he snapped.
“If I helped –”
“I thought you didn’t want me keeping you awake,” Jaime growled.
“I don’t mind –”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!” He flung back the covers and launched himself out of bed, prowling back and forth in the cramped cottage like a caged beast.
Brienne watched him for a few moments, until it was clear his pacing wasn’t doing anything but making him more agitated, and then got out of bed herself. The fire in the stove cast barely enough light to keep from tripping over furniture, so she turned on the storm lantern and carried it over to the drawers.
“What are you doing?” Jaime asked.
Brienne dug through the clothes and toiletries and other odds and ends she hadn’t bothered to take back down to Evenfall Hall last year. “Looking for sunscreen.”
“It is, in case you hadn’t noticed, the middle of the fucking night,” he said acidly.
“Oh, I’m sorry, am I keeping you awake?” She found the tube and shook it. Still at least a quarter full. “I don’t have any oil, or even any body lotion, but this will do. Take off your top and lie down.”
She turned to find him staring at her. “What?”
Brienne held up the sunscreen. “I’m going to give you a massage. It might help you relax, which will help you cope with the anxiety, which will make you feel better, even if you can’t sleep.”
“You don’t have to,” he said. “I mean, you really don’t, I’ll cope –”
Brienne sighed. “Jaime. I think I can help. And, entirely selfishly, because it will make me feel good about myself, I’d like to try. So will you please do me a favour, take off your top, and lie down on the bed. On your stomach.” When he still hesitated, she added, “I promise I won’t touch your right arm, if you don’t want me to.”
“No, that’s … that’s fine, I think,” Jaime said, so quietly she could hardly hear him. He pulled her sweatshirt off over his head, leaving his mane of hair even more dishevelled than before. Brienne had seen his naked chest before, but somehow it was different, looking at the light dusting of hair over his chest and trailing down to disappear beneath the sagging waistband of her old trackpants in the firelight, than it had been helping Sam sponge him clean in the bath. He strolled over to the bed and flopped down on his stomach. “Like this?”
Brienne cleared her throat. “Without the pillow under your head.”
Jaime yanked it free and tossed it onto the floor. Brienne sat down on the bed beside him. She squeezed a little of the sunscreen into her palm and rubbed her hands together to warm it. Jaime turned his head and smiled at her. “Smells like summer.”
She smiled back. “I suppose it does. Ready?”
He raised an eyebrow. “How much is this going to hurt?”
“Not at all,” Brienne assured him quickly. “If I hurt you, say at once. I just didn’t want to startle you.”
“Mmm. Probably wise.” Jaime dropped his head back to the mattress. “Don’t startle the potentially violent war veteran.”
“Not that potentially violent.” Brienne put her hands gently on his shoulders. The muscles beneath her fingers were rigid. “You’ve never once taken a swing at me. Try to relax.”
Jaime snorted. “I am trying to relax. And not physically assaulting you is a fairly low bar. You need higher standards.”
“I have higher standards.” She began to work the muscles of his upper back and neck, finding the knots of tension and trying to release them. “Is that alright?”
“It doesn’t hurt, if that’s what you mean. You could probably go a bit harder.” Brienne firmed her touch and Jaime grunted. “That’s good, actually.”
“Is summer a good memory for you?”
“Some of them, why?”
“Things we smell are strong triggers for memory. Is there a good memory, with the scent of sunscreen, that you can remember?”
“Mmm.” He turned his head to the side, smiling a little. “This one year … I was, I don’t know, fifteen, fourteen. I always spent the summers at school, my father thought it was better for me, character building.” He caught his breath. “There – that’s good. Right there.”
Brienne concentrated on the tight spot she could feel beneath his left shoulder-blade. “And that summer?”
“Tyrion was seven or eight. Father decided it would be good for him to spend the summer with me, at school.” He snorted. “Really, he just wanted an excuse to send him away as soon as possible. It was his fault, Father decided, that our mother died. But he miscalculated, if he thought it was a punishment for either of us.” He smiled, sweet and somehow boyish despite the beard. “An empty school in summer? Three generous meals a day and adults who were all too willing to relinquish the tedious task of supervising a child to an apparently-responsible older brother.”
The tight spot yielded to Brienne’s coaxing and she transferred her attention to the other side. “And were you responsible?”
He chuckled. “Gods, no. I taught Tyrion to ride, in the school stables. I borrowed, and by borrowed I mean temporarily stole, the motorcycle of one of the history teachers and we drove entirely too fast on completely unsuitable country lanes. We went fishing, and Tyrion hooked a fish so big it pulled him in instead of him pulling it out and by the time I got to him and pulled him up he was half-drowned. And still holding on to the rod.” He sighed. “It was the best summer of my life. Fuck, right there, exactly there. Harder.”
“You need to do proper physio.” Brienne dug her fingers into his back. “Or at least some yoga. Not all of this is tension. You’ve gotten out of balance, I think, compensating for your hand.”
“Alright,” Jaime mumbled.
Brienne raised her eyebrows. “Really? Not too touchy-feely for you?”
“Consider me a convert. Anything that feels this good is either proper medicine, or illegal.”
Jaime’s breathing was slow and steady now, the muscles beneath Brienne’s hands slack. She worked her way down to his waist and then slowly back to his shoulders, his neck, until he was quiet and bonelessly limp under her fingers. “If you turn over,” she said softly, “I’ll massage your chest.”
“Mmm, better not.” Jaime gave a huff of a laugh. “I’m afraid one part of me is definitely not relaxed by your massage.”
It took Brienne a heartbeat to catch his meaning, and then she had to force herself not to snatch her hands from his skin as if he’d suddenly become red-hot. The way he flinched away when he touched my hand with his stump … Brienne kept her fingers steady and gentle on his back, so he’d know she wasn’t rejecting him or shying away from him. “It’s a normal physiological reaction to touch,” she reassured him. “You’re not the first man it’s happened to, and you won’t be the last.”
Jaime chuckled. “Yes, a normal reaction to you running your hands over me. And now would be a good time to stop, unless you want to spend an hour arguing over who sleeps in the wet spot.”
Brienne eased her hands away from him. “I could … I could go and chop some firewood.”
Jaime turned his head to look at her. “In the middle of the night?”
“To give you some privacy.” Brienne cleared her throat. “So you could, um. You know.”
Jaime’s eyes widened. “Lady Brienne. Are you suggesting …” His voice dropped to a purr. “That you should wait on the other side of the door while I pleasure myself?”
A flash of heat swept over her at a mental image she couldn’t push away, Jaime naked in the bed, moaning as he thrust against his fist. Brienne swallowed hard. “It would possibly help you sleep.”
He snorted. “I vaguely remember, from the days when I still had a libido.”
“The anti-depressants,” Brienne said. “You’ve stopped them, and it’s a side-effect.” She hesitated, and then plunged onward. “It was for me.”
Jaime smiled. “But not anymore?”
“No.” Brienne swallowed, her mouth dry. “Not since I went off them.”
“And does it help you sleep?” he asked softly.
“No, I …” She shook her head. Impossible to explain. How every fantasy was short-circuited by a chorus of men laughing at her. “But it’s different, for men.”
He chuckled again. “So men insist, anyway. No. I doubt I could concentrate on the task at hand, anyway, knowing you were shivering in the garage.” Jaime sighed. “Stay here with me. I’ll restrain myself.”
“Alright.” Brienne lowered herself carefully down to lie beside him. His hair was tumbling over his face and she couldn’t help but reach out and smooth it back, and then again, and then again.
Jaime smiled, leaning into her touch. “S’nice,” he murmured dreamily. “Nice. You have gentle hands.”
That made Brienne snort. “No-one’s ever accused me of being gentle before.”
“Well, they’re fuckwits.” Jaime’s words blurred together, his eyes closing. “Brienne.”
“I’m here.” She ran her fingers through his hair. “I’m here, Jaime.”
“Of course,” she promised. “Of course I’ll stay.”
Jaime sighed, and turned his face into her hand, and went out, all at once.
Chapter 19: Brienne IX
Brienne had a dream. And other stuff.
Angst forecast: intermittent
Smut forecast: hot
“Brienne.” Jaime’s hand smoothed over her hair and ran down her spine. He gripped her hip and drew her closer to him. “Brienne.”
Yes. Brienne let him draw her leg over his, his thigh hard between hers, slow friction making her warmer and warmer. Yes. She was on her back, somehow, Jaime between her thighs. Her hips began to move involuntarily in rhythm with his, rocking up into him as he thrust down, each movement a sweet pleasure that was keen enough to ride the edge of pain. Yes. Jaime panted her name, holding her close, driving down against her harder and faster, his breath hot against her neck. Yes, oh, yes. The heat inside her rose higher with each jerk of his hips, pressing her down into the mattress as he kissed her hard, ravaging her mouth, until everything tightened inside her, hotter and sweeter and unbearable –
Brienne, Jaime groaned, and the knot inside her clenched and then released in a wave that rolled over and over her, tossing her in a surf of pleasure –
That swept her to waking.
“Brienne.” Jaime stroked her hair. “Just a nightmare, Brienne. You’re alright.” Her head was on his shoulder, her arm across his perfectly muscled chest. Oh, no. Had she been rutting against him like an over-excited dog in her sleep? Her cheeks scalded at the thought, and she pulled away from him. Jaime let the arm he had around her shoulders drop. “You’re not going to be any warmer on the other side of the bed.”
Brienne shook her head, staying where she was. “I’m not cold.” She was the opposite of cold, in fact, hot embarrassment warring with warm relaxation from her climax. I forgot how good it feels.
“You were shivering.” He rolled onto his side to face her. “Did I stir up bad memories, me and my curiosity?”
“No,” she assured him quickly. “No. Did I?”
“Little bit.” He smiled. “But good ones, too. I hadn’t thought about that summer with Tyrion for ages.”
“Do you miss him?”
Jaime sighed. “I would have told you I didn’t, a week ago. He’s part of … all that mess, our family, Cersei. But yeah, I think I do miss him.”
“Tell me something else about him. From when you were both kids.”
He raised an eyebrow. “To distract you from your bad dream, or to distract me from asking about your bad dream?”
Brienne smiled. “Why can’t it be both?”
“You have to go first, though, you owe me a story. Tell me about … mmm, I don’t know. Any good memory.”
Mum. Unbidden, her mind went to a warm spring day, a gentle breeze, the soft new leaves on the trees in the yard starting to unfurl. “When my mum died …” Brienne paused. “Sorry. I forgot that you – I didn’t mean to remind you.”
“It’s alright,” Jaime said softly. “I told you, I barely remember her. But unless yours was a monster, I’m not sure I see how this is going to be a good memory.”
“She’d been sick for a long time. A kind of blood cancer. Ari was still a baby when Mum got sick the first time, so by the end …” Brienne shrugged. “I think in a way we’d done all the worst parts of grieving, you know? Which must have been hard for her, because who do you go to when you’re little and sad?”
“Your mum.” He smiled a little. “Or your Aunt Genna, in my case. For bracing rhetoric and squishy hugs.”
“Your mum,” Brienne agreed. “So in a weird way we went through losing her while she was still there to hug us and comfort us and make us feel stronger. And she was very weak, she was hurting a lot in the end. That last day … it was the first really good day of spring. It can be pretty blustery, here. But it was warm, that day, and sunny, with little white clouds all across the sky and just enough breeze for it to not be too hot.”
“I know those days,” Jaime said. “The first day I didn’t walk anywhere was a day like that.”
Brienne shifted to pillow her cheek on her hand. “Dad carried Mum outside. Gall and me hauled out the mattress from my bed, so she’d be comfortable. I’d made a picnic, not a patch on one of Alysanne’s but she was just ten then, not the culinary master she is now. We all sat together, under those big trees in the yard, and we ate and we talked. And Mum – she had this weird sense of humour, you know? She loved stupid jokes, the stupider the better. We used to collect them for her.”
“What do you mean by stupid?”
“A horse walks into a bar. The bartender says why the long face?” Jaime groaned, and Brienne chuckled. “Like that. So we all took turns, telling her these stupid, stupid jokes, and she was looking up at the blue sky and holding Dad’s hand and smiling, and then she was gone.” Her eyes filled with tears, but unlike the all the ones she’d shed after The Thing That Had Happened, tears for her mother never hurt. “The last thing she knew in her life was how much we loved her. And that we’d be alright.” She wiped her cheeks with her fingers. “So it’s my best good memory.”
“Brienne.” Jaime’s voice was very soft. He reached over and swiped away a stray tear-track she’d missed with his thumb. “Tell me more about her.”
Brienne smiled. “She and Dad used to dance in the kitchen. She’d be trying to get us fed and into bed, and Dad would come home from whatever he’d been sorting out that day, and he’d start singing. He has a sort of growly voice, but he can carry a tune.”
Jaime’s hand was warm on her cheek. “What did he sing?”
“Different things, depending on his mood. Sometimes it would be something romantic. Sometimes rock and roll. And Mum would always pretend to be annoyed that he was trying to distract her from getting dinner on the table, but she’d always end up dancing with him, whether it was a slow waltz or a wild fling.”
“They loved each other.”
Brienne nodded. His fingers slid over her cheek with the movement, and she had to swallow hard before she could go on. “They started dating in high-school. Mum said, she always said she knew he was the one within a week.”
Jaime smiled. “Did he carry her books?”
“No. She never said why.” She smiled back at him. “He probably told her some corny knock-knock joke.”
He moved a little, his fingers warm on her cheekbone. “Knock knock.”
She couldn’t help but smile. “Who’s there?”
“My key doesn’t fit in the key hole.” Brienne snorted, and Jaime grinned. “Knock knock.”
“Don’t you know it’s to whom?”
Brienne giggled. “Knock knock.”
“Why are you crying, I just want to come in.”
He laughed. “Knock knock.”
“Bless you,” Jaime shot back, straight faced.
Brienne guffawed, and then clapped her hand over her mouth. “Sorry.”
Jaime frowned. “For laughing? Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?” Brienne asked from behind her fingers.
“The interrupting sheep.”
“I know this one.”
“The interrupting sheep,” Jaime insisted.
“The interrupting she—”
“Baaa!” he brayed, so loudly that even though she knew it was coming, Brienne jumped and then began to laugh. Jaime gave her a smug smile, and then hooked his fingers around her wrist. He tugged her hand down from her mouth. “Don’t hide from me.” She used her other hand to cover her mouth instead and Jaime narrowed his eyes. “Don’t make me come over there, Lady Brienne.”
“My teeth,” she explained. “I have such an awful smile.”
“Alright, now I really do have to come over there,” Jaime said. “Fair warning, so if you need to kick me straight out of bed to be safe, brace yourself.”
“Kick you –”
Before she could finish the sentence, Jaime surged across the bed. With one of her hands already captured by his left, he used his right arm to push the other away from her face, leaning over her in a way so like her dream that Brienne had to bite back a moan at the bolt of heat shooting through her. “Lady Brienne,” he said, his gaze steady and intent and his beautiful face very close to hers. “I like your smile. I like your laugh. I don’t give a fuck that you didn’t have braces as a kid. Alright?”
Her mouth too dry to speak, Brienne nodded.
Jaime smiled, beautiful as sunrise. “Alright,” he whispered. “Knock knock.”
Chapter 20: Jaime XI
Jaime's not nice. But he does have a moral compass.
Smut forecast: moderate.
Brienne was utterly still beneath him, blue eyes wide. “Who’s there?” she whispered.
What the actual fuck am I doing? Jaime let her go and shifted back to the other side of the bed. “Sorry.”
Brienne turned on her side to look at him. “Sorry who?”
“No, I mean …” Jaime dragged his fingers through his hair. “I shouldn’t have …” He sighed. “Any of that. All of it. Both. I’m sorry.”
Brienne bit her lip. “I know you didn’t mean anything by it.”
Jaime snorted. “If I didn’t mean anything by it I’d hardly have anything to be sorry for, would I?” He shook his head without raising it from the pillow. “No. I mean … what was that boy you were telling me about? The hot gay swimmer?”
“Renly,” Brienne said quietly.
“Did he know that you knew that he was gay?”
Brienne smiled. “If he didn’t know that I knew, he must have thought I was an idiot. He was very much out and proud.”
“So. When Renly said you have great legs and asked you to dance, it didn’t mean anything.”
Brienne sucked in a sharp breath. “How did you know he said that about my legs?”
Jaime had to laugh. “Because they’re fucking fantastic, you idiot, and since you said you met him at swim meets, he would have seen all of them.”
Brienne narrowed her eyes. “You haven’t, though, so –”
“Those shorts,” Jaime interrupted. “The three weeks when the weather was super hot? Those shorts you kept wearing didn’t show as much of you as a swimsuit, but certainly enough to make me understand why any straight man with a brain in his head would want to find out just how high those freckles go.” It was really a distracting thought, the idea of finding constellations in Brienne’s freckles the way he found them in the stars every night. He had to swallow hard to clear his voice. “Renly didn’t mean anything by it. But I, unfortunately, did. So I apologise.”
“What if …” Brienne paused. When she went on her voice was so soft that Jaime had to strain to hear it. “What if I didn’t mind?”
“You should mind,” Jaime pointed out. “I’m an ageing ex-con with a, let’s be euphemistic and say chequered romantic history, not to mention a foul temper and, oh yes, only the one hand.” He gave her a rueful smile. “You should be –”
“If you say with someone my own age I will kick you out of bed,” Brienne snapped. “I was, and it didn’t exactly turn out brilliantly, did it?” She rolled over onto her back with enough force to shake the mattress.
Fuck Kyle Cunt, and whichever Cunntingdon heir it was, and all of the rest of them. Jaime was most definitely going to find each and every one of them when the storm finally passed. And fuck me for being a flaming asshole. What the fuck was I thinking? His dick had been doing the thinking, that was the simple answer, and what it had been thinking was that Brienne was the amazingly tall and strong woman with the stunning blue eyes whose touch made him feel so very good. And not that she was vulnerable and traumatised and had been horribly violated. And is basically trapped here with me.
“Someone better,” he said. “Is what I was going to say. And anyway, you did mind.”
She frowned at him. “Thank you so much for telling me how I feel, I’d be clueless without your help.”
Jaime snorted. “You froze like a startled deer.”
“I thought you were going to kiss me!”
“Panicked silence is generally not the desired response to romantic overtures,” Jaime pointed out dryly.
“I didn’t know what to do!” Brienne sat up, glaring down at him, clutching the blankets to her chest. “I’ve never been with anyone, except Hyle. I didn’t want to do the wrong thing!”
He blinked at her. “The wrong thing?”
“Something that would gross you out.” She flung herself down again, flouncing over to show him her back.
Oh. “Brienne –”
“Explain my feelings to me again, I fucking dare you!” she snarled.
“Not that brave,” Jaime said. “Brienne. I thought I’d … I don’t know, reminded you of what those assholes did, or something? That you were freaking out.”
“Triggered.” She sniffed hard. “The word is triggered. And I wasn’t. I liked it, actually.” She sniffed again. “But don’t worry, I’m not expecting you to do it again.”
I liked it, actually. Jaime’s cock stirred. He had to swallow twice before he could trust his voice. “What if I want to do it again? At some point when you have the option of kicking me out, I mean.”
Brienne went very still. “Would you want to do it again?”
“I want to do it right now, in fact,” Jaime said, not trying to disguise the hunger in his voice. “As well as quite a bit more.”
“Then why don’t you?” she asked softly.
“Because you’re stuck in a one-room cabin with me for who-knows-how much longer. That’s not exactly a situation that screams free and informed consent.”
Brienne snorted, and rolled back over to face him. “I could put you on your arse without breaking a sweat.”
“Maybe,” Jaime said. He raised his eyebrows. “Or maybe not. I might only have one hand but I was Special Forces, for a long time. But you can’t kick me out into that weather and lock the door on me without it being pre-meditated murder, and I don’t want you lying awake worried that I’ll creep on you in your sleep –” Brienne went crimson. Jaime gave her his best dirty grin. “Although if that’s a private fantasy, we can discuss it at a future point. After the rain stops.”
She looked at him for a long moment, her blue eyes huge in the dim light. “Thank you,” she said at last, very quietly. “Do you mind me coming over there? It’s cold.”
“I don’t mind,” Jaime said honestly. “But you should know, I’ve got a bit of a boner.”
“That’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Brienne assured him earnestly. “A healthy man can get an average of eleven random erections –”
Jaime laughed. “Brienne. There is nothing random about this hard-on, I assure you. And I’m not so much embarrassed, as wanting you to know I’ll control myself.”
“And if I don’t want you to?” she whispered.
“Also something to discuss at a future point.” He smiled at her. “Are you going to come over here, then? Despite my stiffy?”
She shifted closer. “Will it make it harder for –” Jaime burst out laughing, and Brienne went crimson again. “I mean …”
“I know what you mean.” Jaime turned over onto his back. The friction of the sheet made him catch his breath. “Having you pressed up against me is definitely going to make it harder, yes.” Brienne’s blush deepened and he chuckled. “But come here and get warm, and I’ll suffer through it.”
Brienne edged further across the bed until she was almost touching him. “Is this alright?” she asked shyly.
“Closer,” Jaime said. “If you’d like.”
She moved again and was suddenly warm and strong and soft against his side, making him catch his breath. “Jaime?” she whispered. “Are you alright?”
He cleared his throat. “Very much so. You?”
She nodded. “This is nice.”
Jaime raised his hand and ran it over her hair. “Nice is good. I plan to do better than nice, eventually. But nice will do for now.”
Brienne reached across his chest and put her hand on his right arm. “Is this okay?”
He swallowed. “Fine.”
She raised her head a little. “Jaime?”
“I should be fine.” He tried to make his voice light. “So I’m fine, right?”
Brienne moved her hand to rest on his chest. “You don’t need to be fine.”
“It’s just ...” Jaime paused, feeling her fingers on his wrist as vividly as when she’d been touching him. “It’s weird. Different.”
“Does that have to be bad?” Brienne asked. “I mean, it’s really different for me, when you …” She paused, blushing. “When I thought you were going to kiss me. That felt kind of weird, too. But not in a bad way.”
“Well I was hoping for better than weird,” Jaime said, trying – and fucking failing – to not be offended.
“In a good way,” Brienne said. “Different. Which, you know.” She bit her lip. “Was not exactly unwelcome. After. The thing. That happened. I haven’t …” She ducked her head against his shoulder, hiding her face. “Haven’t really just felt good, like that, since then.”
Thrashing the little shits was really not going to be enough. I’ll kill them. Jaime stroked her hair. “When this storm is over, I earnestly intend to prevail on you to let me drag you into my tent and keep you there until I’ve made you feel good half-a-dozen times.”
Brienne gave a little snuffling laugh. “Thank you. I accept your polite offer of abduction.” She rubbed her cheek against his shoulder. “And thank you for always being such an ill-tempered arse.”
Jaime snorted. “Not something people generally express gratitude for, but you’re welcome.”
She raised her head and smiled at him, her brilliant eyes soft. “You’re not nearly nice enough to be pretending to fancy me just to give the ugly girl a pity kiss.”
“I’m not nice at all,” Jaime pointed out.
Brienne’s smile grew. “Why do you think I like you?”
Chapter 21: Brienne X
The storm ends.
Smut forecast: mild
“Brienne.” Jaime’s voice was soft. “Brienne, wake up.”
She was warm and comfortable and safe, Jaime’s shoulder beneath her head and his arms around her. She closed her eyes more tightly. “No.”
He gave a slight chuckle Brienne felt as much as heard. “The rain’s stopped. And … I need the privy.”
“Fine,” she said grumpily, and rolled away from him. “I want five more minutes, though.” She felt Jaime get out of bed, and then the blankets were pulled up further over her shoulders and tucked around her.
“You can have fifteen, how about that?” Jaime said. “It’s going to take me at least that long to make your breakfast.”
“We don’t have any eggs.”
“I can cook more than just eggs.”
Brienne curled up in the warm nest of blankets and listened to Jaime stoking the fire, putting pans on the stove, rummaging in the pantry cupboard. After a few moments, the smell of cooking pancakes drifted to her. She rolled over and watched him as he steadied the pan with his stump so he could flip the pancakes. His hair was wilder than usual and his expression of intent concentration made him look as stern as a statue of the Father, until he glanced up and gave her a brilliant smile.
“You don’t have any syrup, I’m afraid,” he said cheerfully.
“It’s not really a thing, on Tarth.”
“So what do you have on your pancakes?”
“Jam, mostly. I don’t think I’ve ever had syrup on pancakes, actually.”
“A travesty!” Jaime declared. “Lady Brienne, you should have only the finest syrup in the land.”
She giggled. “Well, Ser Jaime, that can be your first quest.”
He shot her another glance, eyes dancing. “I shall venture forth, and conquer supermarkets in your honour.”
Brienne steeled herself and flung back the blankets. The fire had burned low enough in their sleep to make the air unpleasantly chilly, and she shivered her way to the privy to relieve herself and then back to the stove to get as close to the warmth as she could.
Jaime slid a pancake from the pan to the growing stack. “You could come here and keep me warm.” He gave her a wicked grin. “Or raise my blood-pressure, at least.”
Brienne felt her face flame. “I don’t want to get in your way –”
“Stand behind me.” His voice dropped to a purr. “Wrap those strong arms around me.”
Brienne swallowed hard. “Really?”
Jaime laughed. “Really.” He raised an eyebrow. “The rain’s stopped, Lady Brienne. After I feed you, and find somewhere with good enough reception to call Tyrion, I am going to set up my tent outside. So come here.”
Brienne hesitated a few heartbeats, and then moved around the stove to stand behind Jaime. She took a deep breath, and put her hands lightly on his waist. “Like that?”
“No.” Jaime set the spatula down a moment. He took her right hand in his left and drew her arm around him. “Like this.”
Brienne slid her other arm around him until he was wrapped in her arms and she was flush against his back. “Like this?”
“Very much,” Jaime said huskily. He leaned back against her, flipping the next pancake. “You think you’re the only one who wouldn’t object to being thrown down and taken?”
I could do that. I’m strong enough. Brienne felt a flush of warmth at the sudden thought of Jaime, beneath her, gorgeous and golden, writhing with pleasure as she touched him and kissed him and – Jaime gasped a little, and Brienne realised she was holding him too tightly. She loosened her arms. “Sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Jaime said hoarsely. He cleared his throat. “So, ah … since we’re not trapped here, strictly speaking … how would you feel about letting me off my promise?”
He chuckled. “That’s my ego checked. My promise, Lady Brienne, to not try and kiss you while you couldn’t get rid of me if you didn’t like it.”
Yes, please, kiss me – She let him go and stepped back. “You need to call Tyrion,” she reminded him.
Jaime snorted. “Tyrion of all people would understand me waiting ten minutes to snog you senseless first. He’s in a different bed every night.”
“I’m sure he loves you enough to let you know he’s alive.”
Jaime flipped the last pancake. “So find the jam, so we can have breakfast, so we can leave, so I can call Tyrion.” He glanced at her, smiling. “So I can kiss you.”
She went to find the jam.
The pancakes were exactly as pancakes from mix usually were, which was to say hot and bland and better slathered with jam. Brienne cleaned her plate, drained her mug of tea, and went to pull on her oil-slickers and start the truck.
Jaime, wearing his own coat over her clothes, raised the door for her, and then climbed into the passenger seat, his phone in his hand. “I’ve still got no service.”
“One of the towers probably came down in the storm.” Brienne pulled out of the garage, keeping the speed of the truck low, cautious of fallen branches and toppled trees. “When we get to the road, you should be able to – shit.”
She hit the brakes. One of the big trees lining the lane had come down, sprawling across the road.
“So, I, uh …” Jaime shot her a sideways grin. “See why you were so adamant I not wander around looking for decent phone reception. Do we climb over it, or …?”
“Or.” Brienne turned off the engine. “I’ve got a chainsaw in the back.”
He laughed. “Of course, you have a chainsaw you prepared earlier.”
She frowned at him. “I always have a chainsaw.”
It only made him laugh harder.
Brienne heaved herself out of the vehicle, went to the tray of the truck and unlaced the cover enough to retrieve the chainsaw. She checked the fuel gauge just to be sure, although she never left it less than full, and hauled it around to the front of the car.
“Can I help?” Jaime asked, getting out of the truck. He held up his hand and his stump. “Not that I can be particularly useful, but …?”
“No.” Brienne yanked the cord and started the chainsaw. “But it you want to text Tyrion, try from the top of the truck,” she shouted over the noise. “Hit send and hold the phone up, it might work!”
She started with the smaller branches, clearing the trunk so she could cut it up more easily. Glancing behind her, she saw Jaime standing on the top of her truck, waving his phone back and forth like a fan at a pop concert. Stretched up to his full height, arm above his head, he looked so magnificent that Brienne had to force herself to turn her attention back to the chainsaw and the tree.
When the tree was sheared of branches, she braced herself and began to cut the trunk into manageable sections. She was careful how she placed her feet so as not to trip herself up on the dropped wood, but the ground was surprisingly clear. Halfway through, she stopped the chainsaw and paused to catch her breath.
“Just let me get this,” Jaime said, hoisting a branch. He hauled it away from the road and tossed it aside. Brienne let the chainsaw droop and turned to see all the branches and wood she’d cut piled at the edge of the road. “Do you want me to load the bigger stuff into the truck, for firewood?”
Brienne wiped sweat from her face with her sleeve. “That’d be great. Did you get through to Tyrion?”
Jaime nodded, grinning. “I sent a text letting him know I was alive and he replied with a string of emojis that I don’t understand but I assume are insulting. Give me your dad’s number and I’ll send one to him, too, while you destroy the rest of the tree.”
“Thanks. It’s three-three-three TARTH.”
“Got it.” Jaime climbed back onto the hood, and then the roof, of the truck. “I’ll tell him you’re safe and well and soon to be enjoying –”
“Jaime!” Brienne shouted. “Don’t you dare!”
“Being reunited with your family,” he finished. He gave her a look of wide-eyed innocence. “What did you think I was going to say?”
She snorted. “You know what I thought you were going to say.”
“Why Lady Brienne, I’m shocked at how dirty your mind is!”
Brienne turned the chainsaw back on. “I can’t hear you, what?” she shouted.
When Jaime had sent his second message, he and Brienne made short work of the rest of the tree and loaded a good supply of firewood into the back of the truck. Brienne replaced the chainsaw with a mental note to refuel it as soon as she got home. She was about to get back behind the wheel when Jaime turned sharply, looking up at the sky. “Hear that?”
Brienne listened. She was about to say no when a faint buzzing sound reached her ears. “That’ll be Gall.”
“It’s not a person, it’s –”
She smiled. “Gall’s drone, I mean. My brother doesn’t buzz, unless you count how badly he hums.” Squinting upwards, she could just see the drone’s red shape against the blue sky, and waved to let Galladon know she was alright.
Instead of flying on so Gall could continue his job of checking for storm damage, however, the drone descended, settling on the road a few yards away. Don’t tell me he forgot to charge it again. Sighing, Brienne went to pick it up. No, the lights are on. Some sort of mechanical problem?
“There’s a note,” Jaime said beside her. He pointed to a corner of paper sticking out of the battery cavity.
Brienne pried it free. Bri-bear, it read, in her brother’s messy scrawl, half the hill came down just past Baelon’s Beard. You’re stuck for a bit until they can get the dozer up and clear it. Dad says ‘thanks walking man’ for the text. She showed it to Jaime.
“Baelon’s Beard?” he asked.
“That waterfall half-way between here and Evenfall Hall.” She sighed. “We’re stuck for a few days at least. So no family reunion.” She chewed her lip. “And that means they’ve only got the one truck. And Gall, he tries, but he’s not always the most reliable.”
“We could try to climb over?”
Brienne shook her head. “No. If that was safe, Gall would have said.”
Jaime touched her arm gently. “At least they know you’re okay,” he said. “And you can write back to them.”
“No need.” Brienne turned the drone right-side up again and set it on the bonnet of the truck. Stepping back to make sure she was in view of the drone’s camera, she began signing. No injuries no illness plenty of food and firewood will check phone morning evening love you all even you. She gave the camera a grin and a thumbs-up to tell Gall she was finished. The drone rose up into the air, waggled back and forth, and flew off.
“That was Weslan, wasn’t it?” Jaime asked. “You learned Weslan in order to send messages to your brother via drone? Why not just get a drone with a microphone?”
“None of them had enough range, when Dad bought it. And I learned Weslan because Dad’s brother was born deaf. We all know it, not as much as Dad. But it does come in handy with Gall’s drone.” She shrugged. “If the truck breaks down, for example, somewhere where the reception’s bad, or if the network’s down, Dad can tell Gall what’s wrong and that he’s alright and who’s house he’s going to hike to. I told him we don’t need medical help and we have enough food.” She smiled at him. “Don’t worry. We can set your tent up near the cottage, at least until the next big blow. And I have a special surprise.”
Chapter 22: Jaime XII
Jaime has a plan
Smut forecast: moderate
Disappointingly, Brienne’s special surprise wasn’t an emergency stash of condoms and an enthusiastic invitation to make use of them, but as Jaime tugged the chain of the camping shower and let warm water sluice over him he had to admit it was a pretty good surprise all the same.
She’d hauled it out from the corner of the garage and set it up on the porch, boiled the kettle twice so the water in the reservoir was pleasantly warm, and produced a cake of surprisingly fruity soap. Although why I was surprised that a woman whose favourite colour is pink likes soap that smells of strawberries, I do not know, Jaime thought as he rinsed the last of the suds away. He dried himself as quickly as he could, given the nip in the air, wrapped the towel around his waist and hurried inside.
Brienne looked up from the stove and went instantly pink. “I, uh, clean clothes. On the bed.”
Jaime grinned at her, his very best dirty grin. “Or I could stay like this. If you’d like.”
She went even more crimson. “It’s not warm enough,” she blurted. “You should get dressed.”
Shy again. Well, that was unsurprising. She’s an innocent, a maiden, in every way that counts. Only shy, though: the way her gaze travelled over him betrayed her interest. I haven’t really just felt good, like that, since then, she’d said, and as much as Jaime longed to feel her hands on him, what he really wanted was to make her sigh and moan and scream and forget, even if just for a while, about being the woman in the sex tape.
Well, he could be patient. He had that much self-control. He hadn’t even touched another woman in all the years Cersei had been, unbeknownst to him, fucking anything with a dick and a pulse. If he’d gotten nothing else from that disaster, he’d at least learned to wait. Jaime grabbed the sweat-shirt and tracksuit pants from the bed and headed for the privy, to dress behind closed doors.
He stayed inside the cottage while Brienne had her own shower, searching through the pantry cupboard for something he could make for lunch. Lunch, what a concept. It had been more than a year since Jaime had bothered with more than two meals a day, but Brienne had a healthy appetite. He found a package of pasta and one of dehydrated lemon pigeon, and was rootling around in the cupboard looking for spices when Brienne came back in.
She was clutching her towel tightly to her chest with one hand, and carrying an insulated picnic-case in the other. “Fat Endrew,” she said, raising it.
Jaime raised his eyebrows. “While you were in the shower?”
“Yes,” Brienne hissed. “So now I get to think about Fat Endrew seeing me naked, thanks to my father, who called him and said we needed fresh food.”
“But the …” Jaime paused. “The shower? Has screens?”
“I was naked inside them!” Brienne dropped the case at his feet and stomped off into the privy, snatching up her clothes on the way.
Jaime knelt down and opened the bag. Eggs, of course, but a half-loaf of fresh bread as well, part of a side of bacon, fresh tomatoes and mushrooms, and a wax-paper wrapped stick of butter large enough to fry all of them to charcoal. He checked the mushrooms, but they all had the thick black gills and smooth stems that meant they were edible. Fry up, or omelette? Brienne came back, dressed but still scowling, and Jaime sat back on his heels to grin up at her. “Look, if one of us has to flash Fat Endrew every day for this kind of bounty, I absolutely volunteer. I propose a fry-up lunch, provided you have a sharp enough knife for the bacon.”
Brienne rolled her eyes. “Of course I –”
“Have a sharp enough knife,” Jaime finished with her. He fished the bacon out of the bag and offered it to her. “Butcher the bacon, Lady Brienne, while I massacre the vegetables.”
They chopped and sliced. Jaime fried while Brienne opened the stove to toast slices of bread against the fire, before they sat down on the couch to eat. The fresh food was delicious, but even better was the expression of sheer pleasure on Brienne’s face as she forked up her food almost fast enough to choke herself. She used her finger to swipe up the last skerricks of egg, licked it clean and sagged back against the couch. “I’ll do the dishes,” she said. “In a sec.”
“I’ll do the dishes.” Jaime plucked the plate from her lap and stood up.
Brienne opened her eyes. “But you –”
“Have years of KP duty to rely on,” Jaime told her blithely. He took their plates to the sink. “Which taught me that soaking beats scrubbing.” Plates, cutlery, pans – he boiled water in the kettle, poured it over them all with a squirt of dish-soap, and left them to soak.
Brienne had stretched out on the couch. Jaime snared the top blanket from the bed and spread it over her.
She opened her eyes and smiled at him. “Sorry. Mild food coma.”
“And, you know, the first time in probably forever when you can just take a nap in the middle of the day.” He cupped his hand under her heel. “Lift up a little so I can sit down.” Brienne raised her legs, and Jaime sat down beside her. Gentle pressure coaxed her to lower them again, across his lap. He stroked her shin gently. “So take a nap, Lady Brienne.”
“Mmm.” She stretched a little, her legs sliding over his, which most certainly did not make Jaime feel like napping. “I should cut up that wood.”
“It needs to dry.” Beneath his fingers, the muscles of her calf were solid, even when relaxed. “You should nap.”
“I should help you set up your tent.”
“Been doing it myself all year. Besides, we can do it later. In between you taking a nap and me cooking you dinner.”
Brienne smiled, closing her eyes. “I can cook dinner.”
“That would foil my evil plan.”
She opened one eye, eyebrows up. “Is this dinner you’re going to cook me poisoned?”
He chuckled. “If I planned to poison you I would have just slipped a suspect mushroom on your plate. You didn’t even check them.”
“That’s because Fat Endrew grows them in a shed, not picks them in the wild.” She closed her eyes again. After a moment she smiled. “Okay, I’ll bite. How exactly is your cooking me dinner an evil plan?”
“I’m lulling you into a false sense of security.”
“Well, now I’m on guard,” Brienne pointed out. “Although all this niceness should have put me on guard in the first place.”
“The dinner will be so delicious you’ll lower your guard again,” Jaime told her. “And then I’ll ply you with wine –”
“We don’t have any wine.”
“I know but saying I’ll ply you with rainwater doesn’t really go with the vibe I’m trying to create here.”
Brienne laughed. “And what is this vibe?”
“The helpless maiden taken advantage of by the wicked rake, of course.”
Brienne laughed again. “I’m not that helpless, and you’re not that wicked.”
She’d gone a little pink in the face, though, Jaime noted. He stretched to pluck one of her romance novels from the bookshelf. “I’ll do more research then.”
Brienne opened her eyes. “Which one – oh, not that one.” She sat up and snatched Lions and Sapphires out of his hand. “That’s –” She blushed. “Embarrassing.”
Jaime might only have one hand, but he did have the reflexes of a Special Forces veteran. He grabbed it back, fending Brienne off with his right arm when she tried to wrestle it away from him again. “Embarrassing how? Do –” He turned the book over to read the blurb. “Goldenhand and the Blue Knight do something you don’t want to admit to being turned on by?” He waggled his eyebrows at her. “Anal? Water-sports? Necrophilia?”
Brienne was bright red. “No! It’s very normal.”
“So what’s so embarrassing?” Jaime let the book fall open and scanned the page. “To him, her face would always be the dearest in the world,” he read aloud. “No fair maiden could ever enrapture him as she, his true knight, did, with all her imperfections and her scars.”
“Stop it!” Brienne seized the book again and clutched it to her chest. “Don’t –” She blinked furiously. “Please.”
Oh. “Brienne –”
“If you make fun of me, I’ll … I’ll … do something. I will!” She sniffed hard.
“I’m not,” Jaime said gently. “There’s nothing embarrassing about liking the idea of being in love and being loved back, Brienne.” He put his hand on her knee. “I blew up my life, twice, for love. Everyone needs love, or at least the hope of it.”
Bright blue eyes regarded him suspiciously. “Are you just saying that to be nice?”
“I’m not nice,” Jaime reminded her. He gave her a sharp grin. “A more reasonable suspicion would be that I’m just saying it to persuade you to let me kiss you. Which I’m not, by the way, the fact that it’s true and the fact that I do very much want to kiss you are unrelated.” He squeezed her knee. “But I won’t read it, if you don’t want. Pick me something else.” He lowered his voice to a growl. “Your favourite. The one you always use to get yourself worked up so you can come fast and hard. The one –”
“Jaime!” Brienne was scarlet. “Stop!”
“I’ll stop when you give me a book.”
“You’ll just call it rapey,” she mumbled.
“Yes, I’m completely incapable of understanding how a woman who has made it her life’s work to look after absolutely everybody might find it difficult to lose herself in a fantasy about a carefree heiress tripping off to Dorne for a dirty weekend.” Jaime chuckled at her startled expression. “And might prefer, perhaps, something entirely guilt-free where she’d have no choice but to surrender to the passion of the man who wants her beyond reason.” He raised his eyebrows. “Surely that’s occurred to you, even with only part of a degree?”
Brienne curled her knees up to her chest, regarding him suspiciously. “You made fun of me before.”
“You were yelling at me.” Jaime shrugged. “In my head, you were going to blush and ask me what I meant, and I was going to offer to throw you down and rip your clothes off if you wanted.” Brienne snorted, and he grinned at her. “In my defence, I had no idea you hadn’t noticed me staring at your legs every single day you visited me during that heatwave. Once I realised I was into you, I thought you’d have to have known.”
Brienne bit her lip. “Nobody’s into me.”
“Sitting right here,” Jaime said, and smiled when she laughed. “And okay, in your defence, I’m intermittently extremely rude to you, which is not generally a sign of fancying someone past the age of five or so.”
“I know you don’t mean it,” Brienne said quietly.
“Which bit, the rudeness or the hard-ons?”
She blushed again. “The rudeness.”
He grinned at her. “Good, because I one-thousand percent mean the boners.”
Chapter 23: Brienne XI
Jaime reads. Brienne enjoys it.
Smut forecast: NSFW
“She sank back against the bed,” Jaime read aloud, his voice warm and flexible. “Lord Hornington knelt between her legs –” He paused. “I’m definitely stealing that,” he said in his normal voice. “From now on, my dick may only be referred to as Lord Hornington.”
Brienne giggled. “Jaime.”
His voice slid down to a lower register. “Lord Hornington is eager for you, Lady Brienne.” He turned the page. “And apparently very eager for the princess he’s kidnapped as well. She trembled as his tongue traced up her thigh, or so we’re told. As his hot breath brushed across her wet –” He stopped. “Brienne, I’m sorry, but I can’t take the word quim seriously in anything written in the last five centuries.”
She raised herself on her elbows and glared at him. “It’s supposed to be authentic!”
Jaime grinned at her, looking entirely unrepentant. “If it was authentic she’d call it her cunt, like women of the time did without embarrassment. So, Lord Hornington’s hot breath is brushing over Princess Peasecod’s wet cunt …” He chuckled. “I can see why you like this one.”
“She really loves him,” Brienne said. “It’s just that their society keeps them apart.”
“Well, she is definitely really hot for him, at the very least.” Jaime flipped through the book. “The six-page masturbation montage was a solid clue. And she gets to enjoy him going down on her for … what, twelve pages? That’s commitment on Lord Hornington’s part.”
Brienne sighed. “I know it’s not realistic. Guys don’t really like to –”
“It’s not realistic because the previous twelve pages featured them sailing from Dragonstone to Skagos,” Jaime said. “I don’t care how ardent a lover a man is, he’s going to need a bathroom break at some point during three weeks of eating his lady out.”
She snorted. “I wouldn’t have given you the book if I’d know you only planned to ruin it.”
“If you wanted,” Jaime said, his voice low and dangerous, “I would happily spend three weeks with my face between your legs. But –” He smiled. “I would require regular meals and breaks so I could be at my absolute best as I made you moan and scream and beg for more.”
Heat flashed through her at the mental image of Jaime’s blond head between her thighs, his curly hair rough beneath her fingers, his tongue – “Don’t joke.”
“Not joking,” he said. “Would you like that, Lady Brienne?”
Yes. No. She shivered. “I don’t know. I told you, I haven’t ever been with anyone, except Hyle.” Brienne bit her lip. “And you haven’t even kissed me yet.”
“And would you like that?” Jaime asked softly. Brienne nodded, and he smiled. “Then you should come over here and give me the chance.”
“Or you could come here,” Brienne pointed out.
Jaime shook his head, still smiling. “Not this time, not the first time. Show me you’re not just being kind to the crippled war-vet. Show me you mean yes and not just not no.”
She hesitated. “Jaime … I’m –”
His smile dimmed, turned sharp. “So you are being kind,” he drawled.
“Scared!” Brienne snapped at him. “I’m scared, okay!”
Jaime raised his eyebrows. “Of me?”
“Of this being a joke to you.” Her eyes burned and she blinked hard. “I mean, I know it isn’t. I do know.”
“Brienne.” Jaime held out his hand to her. “Then just come here and don’t kiss me. Come here and keep me warm a while.”
“Oh, the fire –” It had been over an hour since she’d stoked it. “Jaime, I’m so sorry.” She scrambled across the couch with the blanket he’d spread over her. “I didn’t realise you were cold, you should have said something.” She settled close to him, drawing the blanket over them both.
He chuckled, wrapping his arms her. “I wasn’t cold. I just wanted a cuddle.”
Brienne drew back a little. “Tricking me isn’t going to help me believe you.”
Jaime let her go. “It wasn’t a trick. It was a figure of fucking speech.”
“Oh.” She bit her lip. “Sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so bad at all this –”
“Come back here,” Jaime said. Brienne took a deep breath and lowered herself to lean against his chest, as lightly as she could. “That’s better.” His arms closed around her again. “That okay?”
His arms were warm and strong and firm around her, and Brienne nodded. “S’nice.”
Jaime rubbed her back. “You feel kind of tense.”
“I don’t want to squash you,” Brienne explained.
“I know you could probably hoist me above your head if you wanted to,” Jaime said, laughter in his voice. “But back when I had two hands, I could definitely have benched you. So I think I can withstand you leaning on me.”
Gingerly, she settled against him more firmly. “Is that okay?”
“Very much okay,” Jaime assured her. “Lord Hornington also approves.”
It took her a moment to catch his meaning, and then she felt her cheeks flame. “Jaime!”
He laughed. “Come closer and you’ll be able to tell that Lord Hornington is definitely saluting you.” He moved his hand from her back and touched her cheek. “Such blushes, Lady Brienne. As befits a highborn maiden.” He traced her cheekbone with one finger. “But a highborn maiden doesn’t need to fear the vagabond soldier who only wants to worship her.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “To give her all the pleasure and the happiness she deserves.”
Warmth swept over her, pooling in her belly. She shifted restlessly. “Jaime.”
His lips touched her ear. “When all he wants is to feel her hands on him. When he’d give a year of his life to make her cry out in ecstasy.”
“Don’t be silly.” The words came out as a moan, not the stern rebuke she’d intended.
“I’m entirely in earnest.” His fingers ran back and forth across her cheekbone and then trailed down to her mouth. “Kiss me and find out.” He stroked her lips, his fingertips warm and soft. “Kiss me, Lady Brienne. Please.”
She took her courage in both hands and turned her face to his. There was nothing in his expression but need and tenderness, and so she leaned closer to him and brushed his lips with hers.
He sighed. “Nice. Do it again.” She did it again and he moaned softly, fingers tangling in her hair. His mouth opened against hers as he arched up against her. “Again.”
His lips were gentle against hers and he wasn’t trying to invade her mouth the way Hyle had. She kissed him again, daring to taste the inside of his lips this time. “Is this okay?” she whispered.
“Very okay,” he said huskily. “Would it be okay for me to kiss you back?” When she nodded, he drew her more firmly against him. He kissed the corner of her mouth, then her lower lip, each warm touch sending sparks through her. He traced his fingers gently through her hair and ran his lips along her jaw. “How’s that? Still okay?”
“Mmhmm.” Jaime reached her ear and sucked gently on her earlobe and it was like there was a string directly connecting it to her clit, drawing up inside her and sending a wave of heat scorching through her and it felt so very, very good that all Brienne wanted in the world was for him to keep going. He scraped her ear with his teeth and then soothed the place with his tongue, drawing an embarrassingly loud moan from her.
Jaime chuckled. “I take it that’s okay,” he murmured, and then his mouth was against hers again, more demanding now, his hand firm in her hair, holding her still so he could kiss and kiss and kiss her, his tongue asking access to her mouth and when she sighed and parted her lips for him he was gentle and insistent and she felt every flick of his tongue against hers between her legs and nothing existed but Jaime and how wonderful he was making her feel. She moaned into his mouth, grinding against him, his erection hot and firm against her and it all felt too good for her to be self-conscious and Jaime was panting against her lips and murmuring perfect, perfect, because he wanted her, he wanted her –
“I want to touch you,” Jaime gasped. “Can I touch you?”
His fingers were running through her hair and stroking her neck, his right arm was hard around her waist. “You are touching me,” Brienne panted against his lips.
He gave a breathless chuckle. “A little more intimately.” He ran his hand down her back, over her backside and to her thigh. “I want to stroke Princess Peasecod until both she and Lady Brienne are very, very happy.”
He surprised a bubble of mirth from her. “Jaime! I don’t call – ”
“Lord Hornington wants Princess Peasecod to be happy.” He arched his back, thrusting up against her. “You don’t want to disappoint Lord Hornington, do you?”
“No,” Brienne moaned. “Oh, Jaime, Jaime –” He slid his fingers up her thigh and between her legs. Even through her pants his touch was scorching and when she caught her breath he kept his fingers right there, right there, right there – “Like that, like that, please like that – ” Everything was warm and good and wonderful and she was tingling all over and she was close and close and closer –
“Like that,” Jaime said, and the fizzing along her nerves reached breaking point and she was soaring into waves and waves of bliss, sobbing her pleasure against his mouth as he stroked her and kissed her until one final cataclysmic release left her slumped limp against him.
He wrapped his right arm around her waist and drew the blanket up over them again. “How’s Princess Peasecod?”
“Wonderful,” Brienne murmured. She collected herself enough to raise her head from his shoulder. “But what about Lord Hornington?”
“Oh, he’s very satisfied,” Jaime said with a chuckle. “And in related news, I hope you have more spare clothes.”
Chapter 24: Jaime XIII
Brienne and Jaime get in touch with their respective families.
Brienne leaned against him, warm and slack. “I should –”
“Stay still. You should stay still.”
She sighed and turned her face against his shoulder. “Thank you.”
He chuckled. “For what, exactly? I got off as well.”
“For ….” She took a deep breath. “For not being kind. For wanting me.”
“Neither of them a hardship,” Jaime said, and smiled when she laughed a little.
“I feel so good,” she said, and the note of surprise in her voice had Jaime wanting to kill Kyle Cunt all over again.
He pressed a kiss to her hair. “I and Lord Hornington are happy to make you and Princess Peasecod feel good whenever you want.”
She giggled. “I shouldn’t find those silly names hot, but I do.”
“Formative teenage wanking experiences, I expect,” Jaime said. “And speaking of teenage experiences, I really need to clean myself up and change out of these pants.”
Brienne found him another pair of her sweatpants while Jaime cleaned himself up with ardour-reducingly cold water.
“Did you leave your entire wardrobe up here?” he asked as he pulled the pants on.
She nodded. “It was all stuff … that I’d had at the Citadel. And I thought maybe it would be easier if I didn’t have to see it, maybe I’d be able to not think about the thing so much.”
Jaime paused. “And now I’m wandering around in clothes that only remind you –”
Brienne smiled a little. “Actually, you wearing them doesn’t remind me of anything unpleasant at all. And it didn’t help, anyway, I did keep thinking about it, all the time.”
He held out his hand to her, and when she took it, drew her closer to him so he could wrap his arms around her. “Does anything help?”
She leaned against him, shrugging a little. “Time. Work. I think work was my walking.” She smiled at him, her lovely eyes soft. “Once I could peel myself off the bed, anyway. Meditation, yoga, when I can find the time. And then, you. I didn’t know that you didn’t know what had happened, just that you were too much of an asshole to treat me nicely because of it, and enough of a gentleman not to make fun of me over it. Pretty much everyone else I know can’t help but treat me differently, one way or another.”
Jaime snorted. “Ah yes, the mockery-pity continuum. Very well aware of it. I’m having the urge to kiss you again, just so you know.”
Her smile grew wider. “Then maybe you should.”
So he did.
Her plump pink lips were soft and sweet and the way she moaned as she parted them for his tongue completely undid the work of the cold water and the fact that he had to lean up to kiss her when they were both standing was even more of a turn-on. “Can I touch you?” Brienne whispered against his mouth.
“Better not,” Jaime murmured. “Or I’ll be in danger of messing up a second pair of pants.”
Her lips curved against his. “Your arm. Can I touch your right arm?”
He paused. “Why?”
“Because from the feel of Lord Hornington, you’re enjoying yourself.” Brienne pressed her lips against his again. “I want you to learn that being touched where you have scars can be part of feeling good.”
Jaime raised his eyebrows. “Is this a Citadel approved technique? Because if so, I imagine there must be a fair few outraged parents – ”
She chuckled. “It’s supposed to be massage. And you don’t have to say yes.”
She hadn’t flinched from his stump before. She’d touched his scars, and then she’d still kissed him. His right arm had been wrapped around her when she’d moaned and cried out and come so gloriously he’d been unable to keep himself from following her. She won’t flinch now.
Still, he hesitated. “Brienne …”
“It’s okay.” She put her hands on his cheeks, stroking his beard gently. “You don’t have to. Only if you want to.”
“I think maybe I need more time,” he whispered.
“That’s okay, too.” Her hands moved to his hair. “Jaime. That’s okay. Come here.” She drew his head down to her shoulder, fingers running through his hair. “You’re okay.”
Her arms were strong and solid and holding him so carefully and he wanted nothing more than for her to hold him like that forever and he desperately needed to get away from her – “Brienne,” he said, voice shaking despite his best efforts.
She dropped her arms and stepped back. “Okay,” she said gently.
“I’m sorry.” He raked his fingers through his hair and then scrubbed his hand over his face. “I don’t know why … I’m sorry.”
Brienne smiled at him. “Your mum died when you were a little kid, your father packed you off to a no-doubt hyper-masculinized boarding school, I’m guessing your only consistent physical affection was from your inappropriately sexualised relationship with your sister. Gee, it’s hard to figure out why you’re freaking out.” She raised her eyebrows. “You’re not that complicated, Jaime. Hot, and funny, and irritating, but not all that complicated.”
“Well, thanks,” he snapped, scowling at her. “Glad to know I’m so easy to analyse.”
Brienne’s smile grew wider. “Tell me again how my taste in erotica connects to the dynamics of my family? Maybe neither of us is all that complicated.” She shrugged. “Maybe we’re both just garden-variety fucked up.”
There was nothing but kindness and sincerity in her face. Jaime sighed. “I did like it,” he admitted. “Before, too, when you touched my … my scars. As well as feeling really uncomfortable with it.”
“Yeah, I got that.” Brienne took a deep breath. “So I’m now panicking a little bit over here because of all my own issues, is there any chance I could have a quick hug?”
“Fuck.” I’m a cold-rolled steel asshole. “Brienne, it was nothing to do with you.” He stepped closer and wrapped his arms around her. “You’re hot, and funny, and irritating, and probably a lot more complicated than I can understand. And whether it’s garden-variety or glass-house special fucked up, I am fucked up.”
She put her head down on his shoulder. “Mmm, that’s nice. You’re hot, and funny, and irritating, and you give great hugs.”
“We could go sit on the couch and cuddle and snog for a bit?” Jaime suggested.
Brienne sighed. “I’d like that,” she said. “But I promised Gall I’d check my phone twice a day, so I need to head down the road and find reception.” She raised her head and kissed his cheek. “You could come with, and text Tyrion again.”
Jaime shook his head. “Tyrion only needs to hear from me once a week. I’ll set my tent up while you’re gone, maybe get dinner started.”
“Tyrion might want to hear from you more than once a week.” Brienne rubbed her cheek against his. “And you can charge your phone in the truck.”
So Jaime found himself bundled up in his coat in the passenger seat of the truck as Brienne steered carefully down the track, the headlights illuminating the twilight. “Still no bars,” he said, checking his phone.
“It usually takes a few days for them to get the towers up if they come down in a storm.” Brienne stopped the truck. “This is the highest point of the track between here and Baelor’s Beard, it’s the best chance for reception.”
He grinned at her. “From the top of the truck?”
She smiled back. “From the top of the truck.”
Once Jaime had clambered onto the truck with Brienne, he discovered that Tyrion had sent four texts and left two voice messages. The first two texts were an incomprehensible string of emojis, the next two had enough words sprinkled in for him to decipher that Tyrion would very much appreciate Jaime taking rather more care for his safety. The voice messages were even more explicit and obscene, making Jaime grin at the familiar sound of Tyrion’s inventive invective. Fuck, it’s been nearly a year since I heard his voice.
“Tyrion has opinions,” Jaime told Brienne. He considered trying to call his brother back, but the poor reception would probably reduce any message to static and scattered words. I’m safe and well and stuck in an isolated cabin with a hot woman and plenty of emergency supplies, Jaime texted. Send condoms. He pressed send, and then stood with his phone over his head. It vibrated almost immediately. Tyrion’s not in court today, I suppose.
U R fucking someone not related to us? Tyrion had sent. My prayers are answered. Who is it? Send pics.
“Do you mind if I take a picture of you?” Jaime asked Brienne, who was waving her own phone above her head and periodically checking it. “For my brother. I suspect he believes I’m making you up.”
“Okay,” she said distractedly, studying her phone again. “I’ve got one bar, but nothing’s coming through. I hope they’re all alright.”
Jaime snapped her and sent the picture to Tyrion, captioned Brienne Tarth.
You’re too old for her, Tyrion replied promptly. Is she even legal? She looks like a strapping teenage milkmaid.
Try strapping shepherd, Jaime typed. And yes, she’s an adult. And I know I’m too old for her but she seems to like me.
Strapping shepherd with a brain injury, then. How long is she stuck with you?
Couple of days, until they clear the road to Evenfall, Jaime answered.
Send her my sympathies, Tyrion sent. Gtg, client’s here.
Jaime sent his brother a thumb-up emoji and turned his phone off. “Tyrion says hello,” he told Brienne. “No news from your family?”
She bit her lip. “No, and I texted Dad and Gall and they both went through.”
“Gall might be flying his drone, and your dad might be driving,” Jaime suggested. “Try Alys.”
Brienne nodded. “Good idea.” She tapped at her phone and held it over her head again. It chirped almost immediately. She read the message and smiled. “Alys is trying to work out how to send us supplies by drone. Dad is stuck on a phone-conference with the council, and Gall is using the truck to pick up stuff for the food bank. All well. They think the road might even be clear tomorrow.”
“Good,” Jaime said, trying not to sound glum at the prospect of the outside world intruding again. She misses her family. She’s worried about them. Don’t be such a selfish asshole.
Brienne smiled. “Yes. We can get you set up in the barn and you can see if it suits.” She put her phone in her pocket and took his hand. “And if it doesn’t, we can work out something that does. Maybe if we work on meditation, and you start doing some yoga with me, it might help enough with your anxiety enough for you –”
Jaime snorted. He pulled his hand free and stepped down to the bonnet of the truck. “You’ll fix me, you think?” He jumped down to the ground. “So you can send me off to my old life with a clean conscience?”
Brienne climbed down as well. “Actually, I was thinking that you might be able to shelter in the cottage when the weather’s bad.” She put her hands in her pockets. “And I don’t think I’ll fix you, no, because that’s not how it works.” She shrugged. “And because I only have part of a degree. I just think I might be able to help you learn some skills that might make some things in your life a little bit easier.”
“Because they make some things in my life a little bit easier –”
He scowled at her. “Why do you care? I didn’t ask you to rescue me, and I’m not asking you now, either!”
“Because you’re hot, and funny, and only irritating sometimes,” Brienne snapped. “And the first time I was able to come since it happened was dreaming you were fucking me and the second was this afternoon. And, entirely selfishly I grant you, I’d prefer more orgasms to you getting yourself unnecessarily blown off a cliff!”
“Oh, please, you don’t expect me to believe that,” Jaime scoffed. “I’ll fall for the idea that you haven’t exactly been spoiled for choice among the rustic natives of bucolic Tarth, but not that the owner of such an expansive collection of porno novels hasn’t had a single wank in –”
“I hear them laughing at me.” Brienne’s voice was quiet and steady and devastatingly sincere. “When I try. All I can think of is them looking at me, and laughing about how ugly I am, and everyone seeing that video.”
Jaime stared at her, raking his fingers through his hair. I am a fucking asshole to the infinite degree. “Brienne.”
“I know you’re using me as a warm body to get off with,” Brienne went on in the same soft, even tone. She gave him a small smile. “That’s actually kind of hotter than me thinking only a man who loved me for my personality could want to kiss me. You make me feel good. You make me laugh. You have shit taste in music, which I have some hopes of educating you out of. You give really good hugs, and you cook great eggs. Any one of those reasons would be enough for me to want you to find a way to stay on Tarth and not die.”
Using her. Jaime shook his head. I’m an asshole, but does she really think I’m that much of an asshole? “I’m not using you –”
“I said with, not to,” Brienne interrupted. “Did you miss me saying I found it hot? Did I mention that you make me feel good?” She took a small step towards him, hands still firmly in her pockets. “I know you didn’t ask me to rescue you. And I know you didn’t want to kiss me out of gratitude.”
“Fuck, no, gratitude had nothing to do with it!”
She smiled. “Then come here and kiss me again.”
So he did.