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When Jaime Lannister asked for commitment in a relationship that was supposed to be utterly commitment free, Brienne had laughed. Then she realized, oh no, he had meant every word. And for the first five minutes after he had left, Brienne had felt shocked and guilty and hollow and cold.

Commitment, he wanted commitment, he wanted this to mean something more than just sex and Brienne had not known that was allowed.

Then she was completely furious, because of course Jaime fucking Lannister would feel like he could change the rules on a whim. If he felt comfortable with it, why shouldn't everyone else?

Brienne threw her shoes at the couch cushions in pent up fury, soft and harmless and stupid, but that wasn't enough. She wanted to run and scream and hit things and banish the bright, stunned hurt that had filled Jaime's green, green eyes.

She had thought it was a joke, at first. Not just his suggestion, the overly casual tell everyone, make it serious, but this whole arrangement. Brienne had thought that when Jaime Lannister of all people asked her if she wanted to have totally meaningless sex on a semi-regular basis, he had been making fun of her. He was handsome and careless and glib and he had called her an ox the first time they had met, for fuck's sake. It didn't matter that he had kissed her breathless, she had told herself, he had been drunk and treating her like shit all day, anyways. It didn't matter how charming he sounded on the phone, I did say I wanted us to be friends, didn't I?, this had to be the latest development in the slew of assholes that thought winding Brienne up was funny. If he could trick her into thinking he liked any part of her, he could win his hateful little game. Bonus points if he got pictures of her look of confused hurt when he told her the truth.

That was why she had asked him to come to her place, when she finally agreed to this idiot idea, so she wouldn't face any unwelcome surprises. That was why she had been so brutally straightforward the entire time, too honest by half to be hurt if this wasn't real.

She could still feel his hands on her hips, comfortable and familiar, his mouth as he playfully kissed her chin.

That was all it was supposed to be, comfortable and playful and familiar, bearing all the importance of a breath mint, eaten when bored.

What can I say, Brienne, that's what it was supposed to be.

Brienne changed into her running clothes, even though it was muggy, even though it was late, even though what she wanted to do was cry in absolute confusion and fury because Jaime—

Brienne went running until she thought she might be sick and then took a shower, then went to bed and did not fall asleep.


You're a bastard for walking out like that.
Why the hell did you spring this on me? You realize you need to TALK to a person before making huge leaps like that? I don't even know

-one hour later-

Jaime, we need to talk about what just happened. I didn't mean to laugh at you, I was just surprised because I thought that would have been the last thing someone like you would ever
Did you seriously want to date me, did I make that up? I thought I was just someone random you thought it would be fun to
You're such a bastard.


Brienne didn't tell anyone what was going on after the fight, just as she did not tell them before. Not Sansa, not Renly, gods, certainly not her father. She went about her day: rowing after work, doing chores, making plans to depart Renly's company and start with the Starks, acting like she wasn't waiting for Jaime's name to light up her screen. Because she wasn't. She was enjoying not having to deal with such an entitled, self-obsessed piece of shit.

Besides, Jaime had started this mess and Brienne was determined he would fix it.

Sansa finally put her foot down and insisted that yes, Brienne was going to socialize, she could not leave Sansa to fend for herself at Mace Tyrell's cocktail party, she couldn't keep moping about nothing for forever, come on, Brienne, let's go.

Brienne did not want to go to this party. Most parties were awkward or boring for her, as Brienne usually confined herself to the edges of the room. She never knew what to say anyone, and she had found that it was usually safer to keep her and her bulk out of people's way. But Sansa had a point. Brienne had stayed shut up in her apartment for two weeks and Sansa would likely need interference if Joffrey was there (another bastard Lannister, she thought with sour satisfaction, before being annoyed that she'd thought of Jaime at all).

So, Brienne rolled off her couch and washed her hair and put on some mascara and even shaved her legs because it was too miserably hot for her to bother with pants. She wasn't really one for dresses, never sure how to stand because they always showed off too much leg or arm or back or front, but this one was a lovely bright blue that brought out her eyes, and she liked how the flared skirt made it seem like she actually had a waist.

Brienne did not want to go to this party, but she had to admit her satisfaction when Sansa raised her eyebrows and mouthed you look good upon arrival.

She didn't have to stay long. Brienne merely needed to seem sociable, thank Margaery for the invitation, chat with Sansa a bit, and ignore the fact that Jaime would almost certainly be there, because the same twenty people were always at these things and he never missed an opportunity to peacock around in front of everyone. She didn't have to talk to him. It wasn't up to her to make everything better, he was the one that had broken things in the first place.

Her resolve lasted, as it usually did, until she actually saw Jaime and realized she didn't want to take the sensible high road. She wanted to drag him to the low road and punch him in the head.

He was handsome and sleek in a burgundy suit that was just a touch better than everyone else's, because of course it was. In his ebony shirt and golden pocket square and broad, charming smile, no one would ever think the light could fade from his eyes, his mouth falling as he pulled away from her, words distant like he was barely there.

Brienne marched up to him, ignoring that he was speaking to someone, ignoring the drink clutched in her hand like a lifeline, ignoring that normally she would never dare to do this in public, because dammit, he made her so angry.

"You're a real piece of work, you know that?" she snarled at him, and he turned around, eyebrows raised in mild, disinterested surprise.

"Well, hello to you, too," Jaime said, laughing a little and casting a look to the person he was with, some Lannister cousin, judging by the blonde hair. "You know, I'm really starting to think they don't tell you about manners in Tarth."

"We save them for people who aren't complete shits to us," Brienne shot back, and the Lannister cousin promptly invented somewhere else he needed to be.

Jaime's eyebrows raised a little higher as he turned to face her properly, mouth quirking in the way that said he was excited, the asshole, because he loved a good fight and Brienne hated giving him just what he wanted but he had pretended she didn't exist for two weeks and she was so—

"Oh, if you think I've been shit to you, please know I haven't even started. It's really not worth the time."

"Not worth the time?" she ground out.

"I can find other interested parties just fine."

Brienne's mouth tightened, her face turning hot. This was a bad idea, she knew it was a bad idea to get into an argument with Jaime Lannister when he wielded words like a rapier and she at best brandished them like a club, not to mention in public, gods, how long until people started looking at them, but she was hurt that he had forced her into a situation that was everything or nothing with no notice, no choice, and the gods knew when she'd actually see him again.

"You told me," she said, jaw aching with the effort of staying quiet, staying calm, "that it was casual, that it meant nothing. And then suddenly you're asking so much, after weeks of saying it was nothing, and somehow that's my fault."

"Really, Brienne, I don't want to talk about it," he said, tossing off a careless shrug, just like he had in her apartment. "It doesn't matter, it wasn't that important. Lesson learned."

Brienne stared at him, barely hearing the accusation in his words, because it was funny, really. There they were, standing at some stupid cocktail party, him dressed like a hedonistic demigod, wearing his most dazzlingly insincere you are nothing this is nothing you mean nothing smile, coated in layers and layers of production and pretense and pretend, and Brienne had never seen him more clearly.

"You're a coward," she said, shaking her head in disbelief, because Jaime had many flaws, but she never would have believed this to be one of them.

"What," he asked, smile still in place, though it was harder, now, less a deflection than a weapon.

"You're a coward. Things became difficult—no, there was the least bit of resistance, I did something you didn't find cute or fun, so you ran away like a child. Gods," she scoffed, shaking her head. "I can't believe I never saw it before."

Jaime worked his jaw, veneer of humor gone. Brienne could see every bone in him longing to lash back, to defend his dubious honor with vicious words and cruel assessments and even well-sharpened truths.

But he was Jaime Lannister, charming and glamorous and most importantly the son to Tywin, who would never stand for Jaime causing bad press. So, he gave her a smile that was a masterpiece of anger, set his shoulders, and ran her through with his words, because no one could brandish an insult finer.

She should have remembered that. She should have remembered that Jaime could make a person bleed with a look, should have remembered that she was no longer special, that he did not treat her with feather-soft concern.

"Thank you, Brienne, I almost thought I was speaking to a lady. What an ugly soul you have, all boorish anger and teeth. Shame," he said, gaze flicking over her body in appraisal, less a suggestive caress than a dispassionate frisk. "That's a very pretty dress, I'd almost have thought you were trying to impress someone."

Brienne threw her drink in his face, savagely regretting his shirt wasn't white, because then, at least, it would have stained. She wheeled away before she could break the glass over his head, stalking through the crowd, hands shaking.

She hated Jaime Lannister because he knew what could make her hurt and because she had put on this dress because she thought it looked nice and yes, okay, fine, she had hoped it might catch his eye, the fucker.


That was out of line, Brienne.

You deserved it you piece of shit
you ass
you senseless motherfucker.
I'm not here for you to throw tantrums at.

That's a bit rich, considering you threw a drink at me.

I'm not interested in talking in circles. If you want pity, find someone else.

I'm not talking in circles, I'm saying that you threw a fucking drink in my face in front of a room full of people and stormed off. But yeah, I'm the the one that flipped my shit.
Gods, do you always have to make everything so fucking hard?

-one hour later-

Can we just talk where people can't hear us? Is that so bad?

Fine, Jaime, whatever gets this over with.


There was something absolutely infuriating about how Jaime could run away, refusing to explain anything, then make it seem like Brienne was the one being unreasonable. He always did this, parried and riposted his way into always being right, no matter if that made him a liar or a hypocrite or a fraud. How on earth they had ever made this stupid…thing work was beyond her, they couldn't be in a room for more than five minutes before they were snapping at each other.

This was her fault, she thought savagely, making herself a cup of tea because she had cleaned everything twice and couldn't admit to herself that she was waiting for him to arrive. She had known that Jaime was a truly horrible human being, vain and selfish and ruthless and insincere, and yet she had told herself it didn't matter. She didn't need to like him to have sex with him and she deserved, just once, to do something dubious and thrilling. And yet here she was, hurt and alone, waiting for him to come back so she could yell at him, even though she'd known he was terrible in the first place.

Her tea had gone cold by the time he knocked, barely touched.

Jaime was haughty when she answered, his smile false and predacious. It was the same as the first time they had met, his gaze lethal and bored between being irreverent and tipsy. Brienne had been certain he planned on taking a bite out of her just to see if he was hungry, and he had. It was just much, much later than she had ever expected.

"Brienne," he said, voice overly formal.

"Jaime. Come in."

He sauntered inside, all long legs and chilly emerald eyes and Brienne pinched herself for noticing.

"So," he said finally, turning on his heel to face her. "Do we pretend we're not here to fight, or do we skip to the good part?"

"The good part, gods, you're a sadist," she sneered, brushing past him to her tea.

"I hope you're not going to throw that at me."

"I fucking might!" she shot back, whirling on him. "You don't just get to treat me like shit, spring something huge on me, then punish me when I don't know how to react!"

"You seemed perfectly sure at the time," he said, eyes narrowing, cold and proud. "There wasn't exactly a lot of hesitation in your face when you mocked me and then called me a coward."

"You are a coward," she told him, shaking her head. She was already angrier than she would have liked, but it felt good to lose control, to lash out at someone as confident and careless and Jaime Lannister. "If I hadn't offended your pride, you never would have spoken to me again, you would have run away and never come back to fix the mess you made, because it's all about you, isn't it? Obviously, you're the only person that has ever been hurt."

"You weren't hurt," Jaime scoffed. "When exactly, between having my hands on your ass, telling me about your amazing new job promotion, and laughing in my face, were you having a bad time?"

"I was surprised!" she yelled at him. "It's been weeks of us saying it was just sex, it didn't mean anything, we were both using each other and we knew it!"

"Gods, you're so cold, Brienne, you're the coldest person I've ever met."

"I am so sick of you acting like you're some martyr," Brienne said, clenching her fists. She wished she really was the vicious-hearted thing Jaime called her, because then, at least, she wouldn't be so hurt by everything he said. "You use people like they're nothing, you don't care about anyone. I was only important because I stoked your pride or whatever, you could pat yourself on the back over making a woman that hated you go weak in the knees, congratulations."

"I made you weak in the knees before I ever touched you, or did you forget all those blushes?" he shot back, infuriatingly smug smile on his face.

"Fine, you made me come, fuck, is that what you wanted?! Is that what you need to hear, was all of this to prove that you can get whatever you want from me, no matter how much you piss me off? Gods, Jaime, sometimes you make me sick!"

"And this from the paragon of morality," he said, voice low and careful where she'd been screaming. "I disgust you and yet you still invite me over for sex or when you need a favor or whenever it's convenient for you. At least when I'm a bad person, I'm honest about it."

"Honest," she snarled, getting in his face now, needing him to crack, needing him to show some flaw, to show she hadn't imagined the pained vulnerability in his face, perversely wanting proof that he was human even when she only let herself be so cruel because he wasn't. "You treat people like bugs, but by all means, revel in being honest. Really, take a victory lap, even when you can't admit that you ran away from me. You're so full of shit, Jaime Lannister."

"Then why the fuck do you keep inviting me back?" he demanded, stepping into her, making her stumble back a step before she set her feet, their knees and chests and noses bumping into each other. He still had that mocking little smile in place, even though he was so angry that his green eyes glittered with it and his hands shook with it and his voice ached with it, his hurt and his wrath like a tangible heat stinging Brienne's skin. "You still haven't answered my question. If I disgust you so much, why do you keep bringing me here, why do you seem so perfectly content to have my fingers or tongue or cock inside you?"

"I don't fucking know!" she yelled, giving him a rough shove because she couldn't stand him being so close, the foul truth of it cluttering up her air.

Jaime stepped back, hard, but he rallied and grabbed her shoulders. Brienne grabbed for him back, trying to keep herself upright and in control and he was kissing her and she was kissing back and Brienne knew this was all wrong but she did not know how to stop.

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't romantic. It was them not being able to draw enough blood with their words, so they kissed instead and it was devastating and personal and cruel.

They sank to the floor, her back scraping against the couch, head knocking into the wooden frame as Jaime worked a scathing hickey onto her neck, all teeth and bitterness. Brienne hissed in a breath, grabbing at his hair, trying to yank him away, but also terrified that he would stop and she would never see him again, and that thought hurt more than his words or nails or teeth.

And she hated him for that. She hated Jaime for making her care, making her need him so much that she let him treat her like absolute garbage, mean and selfish and flighty, so she bit his mouth when he kissed her, undid his belt and his slacks and dug her nails into his thighs.

They were lying on the floor, now, and Jaime tore at the button of her jeans, breath hot and cloying on her skin, but she still found herself helping him, clawing at her clothes, kicking off her pants and underwear as he ground his palm between her legs, rough and painful and yet still so good, good enough to make her gasp, good enough to push her hips against his hand, good enough to fumble with fingers and toes at his underwear, freeing his erection and then they were rutting like dogs on her entryway floor, damn him, damn him, damn her.

It wasn't pretty. It wasn't romantic. It was ugly as they could make it, all grunts and desperate gasps and him hiding his face in her neck because she could not stand to look at him, because this had all gone so terribly, miserably wrong.

Jaime came without much ceremony, weakly thrusting a few times after he was spent. His hand brushed her hip, habit making him move to pleasure her, if such a word still existed.

She pushed him away and sat up. She didn't want him touching her anymore, not when it was just a miserable echo of what they used to be.

Brienne's thighs were wet and clammy from their efforts, her underwear and pants kicked out of reach. Jaime had his slacks pushed down to his knees, though his shoes were still on, she noticed dumbly. They sat side by side, half dressed, completely exposed, because they had never learned to speak to each other so they had fucked instead and it was so much worse.

Jaime didn't say anything as he tried to clean himself up, pulling his trunks back on so at least he was decent.

"Are you…?" he began then swallowed, not meeting her eyes. "Are you on birth control, still? Sorry, I…I should have asked, first."

"Yeah," she muttered, closing her eyes. "Yeah, I'm still on birth control."

He drew in a breath like he wanted to say something else, wonder aloud why she had continued to bother with birth control when they were fighting, but he just let it out again. Brienne looked at him when he dropped something in her lap. Her clothes, she realized, fetched from where they had been tossed aside.

"Thanks," she mumbled, and Jaime hesitantly pushed to his feet. She was being cold, she thought, just like he'd said. In a moment like this, she should have been open, honest, explaining that she guessed she was a typhoon on the inside, everything moving too fast to pin down and pick apart. But instead she just stayed quiet, too numb to even breathe.

He pulled tissues from the box on the end table, awkwardly holding them out to her. He didn't meet her eye, even when she took them.

Jaime didn't seem to know what to do with himself as she got herself sort of clean and pulled on her underwear. Finally, he said, "I should…I'm sorry, I should probably go."

"Yeah," she said again. "You probably should."

He looked at her, then, eyes wary. But he nodded, troubled green gaze roaming around her apartment one last time before he turned and went.

Brienne cleaned up the spot they'd been, turned on the shower, took off the rest of her clothes, climbed in. The water was almost too hot, making her nails and skin and teeth ache, but it didn't matter. She barely had the strength to move as she finally, finally burst into tears.


Brienne's father had an uncanny ability to call whenever she was upset. Selwyn was a painfully quiet man, better suited to observation than interrogation for the details of his feelings, so these phone calls never lasted long. Still, Brienne didn't want to talk to him when she had the slink of shame clinging to her skin.

Selwyn gave Brienne a quick overview of how things were going in Evenfall, then checked in to make sure the sun still set and the moon still rose where they were supposed to. Brienne was starting to think that maybe she'd gotten away with hiding the disaster behind her voice, until he paused and asked, "What's wrong, baby girl?"

Brienne blinked, then blinked again. Baby girl. He hadn't called her that in years, but it still made her feel small and like she was allowed to cry.

She swallowed, looking down at her kitchen counter and her hardwood floors and the comfortably sturdy brick walls of her apartment, reliable and solid and cold. She was tired of being cold, tired of biting off words when she didn't know what to say, tired of always fighting. Brienne didn't want to be someone worthy only of a good fight. She wanted to be a woman worthy of love.

"I'm—" she began, hating how her voice broke off, knowing she couldn't lie to her father, gods, she was so, so tired. "Dad, I'm just—I'm so lonely."

It had never bothered her before. Or, it had but she had packed all of that loneliness up and called it contentment. She was content to sit alone instead of being mocked, content to have few friends proven by time instead of dozens of flighty fair weathers. And then Jaime had come along and mucked everything up. Vapid, insincere Jaime Lannister could not care for a woman that was too tall and too serious and too…Brienne, she had thought at first, so she had paid him no mind. And then he pushed her against a door and kissed her like the sun was going out, asked her to have sex with him because why not, seemed to enjoy every moment of it.

And that had been fine, for a while. Brienne could handle insincerity just as much as she could solitude. Until, at least, she saw the look in his eyes that said she was the moon rising after dusk, the ocean after drought, the gift of a thousand perfectly cut sapphires. She had grown used to that look every time they met: when she met him at the door, when he kissed her, when they woke up together, when they said good-bye, when it had finally gone away. She had been content until she realized that there had always, always been the chance of something more.

There had been.

She let out a few ugly, crooked tears before biting her lip. She wished she had covered the mouthpiece when she heard Selwyn let out one of his slow, melancholy sighs, saying that he had heard her catch of breath. He waited her out, though, letting Brienne dispose of her sadness however she needed. She gulped, trying to find the words, trying to explain without revealing everything.

"Dad, I…I don't want to end up in a bad situation because I'm scared of never finding anyone."

"Well…I've never known you to settle."

She closed her eyes.

"But…all I can say is be honest. About what's there, what you feel, what can come next."

"And what if I don't know any of that?" she asked, sounding desperate even to herself. All she knew was that she was hurt and confused and sad and she was so afraid that it would never be right that she didn't even want to ask.

She eyed the place behind her couch, innocuous in the daylight.

If she didn't ask again, if she didn't even try to talk to him, not to fight, not to accuse, but talk, they would be doomed to run in hateful circles until they died.

Brienne shook her head. She was scared to speak to Jaime again, scared to see the emptiness in his gaze or the green fire that wanted her to burn. But she missed him. She missed what he had been, what he'd half suggested he could be.

Selwyn cleared his throat, clearly having said all he was able. "I love you, baby girl. Always will."

"Thanks, Dad," she murmured, then told herself to be brave.


Jaime, we need to talk about what happened. Gods, I keep saying that, except I didn't send that one, either.
What we did felt…wrong
gross
like it should have gone differently.
Are we going to leave things like this?

-ten minutes later-

Brienne, could we talk sometime? Actually talk, I mean.
Not…like what happened last time.

What if nothing changes?

-call from Brienne to Jaime-


"Hello?

Brienne pressed her cheek against the rail of her veranda, eyes closed, letting the sound of his voice just…settle around her. She was exhausted after days of trying to convince herself to reach out, and from her extra long rowing session that day. If she pulled back enough, she could almost pretend he was there. She could almost pretend things weren't so broken.

"Hi, Jaime."

"Hi."

He also sounded tired, weary, like it had been days since he'd last found rest. She bit her lip.

"I…don't really know how to start," she admitted, because he was the one good with words, not her.

"Well, we can go from the most recent thing."

"No," she said quickly. She didn't want to think about that, didn't want to relive how disjointed and ugly they had been. "I…is it okay if we…don't do this over the phone?"

"You called me, Brienne."

"I know."

She had thought it would be easier calling him than texting, spinning herself up into an anxious fit as she tried to piece together the words just so, but now she just found herself doubting every sound she heard. She needed to verify everything he said against his face, needed to see the truth of the matter in the tilt of his shoulders, the timbre of his smile. And it felt wrong, trying to fix everything or break it apart without doing each other the honor of looking each other in the eye.

"Just…can we meet? We can meet and talk like we're…" Normal, friends, people who trust each other.

Jaime didn't make her finish the thought.

"Yeah, okay, that's fine, I guess. Do you want me to come over, or…?"

"Let's meet in public, like a park," she said. They needed to go somewhere they could not break off into fervent kissing and furious sex, where they would have to talk to each other, where they could at least try to approach this in a healthy way.

He gave a soft chuckle, one that said he knew exactly what she was doing and he didn't find it funny, necessarily, but he didn't know how else to respond.

"Okay, Brienne, we can do that."

"Okay. Good."

They set up a time like they always did, and the stilted familiarity of it made her heart ache.

"Brienne," Jaime said before she could hang up.

She stared over the brightly lit city streets, smelling of summer flowers and the bay and street vendors. "Yeah, Jaime?"

"I hope you're alright."

Brienne swallowed at the lump in her throat, then shook her head. "Yeah, Jaime, I'm fine."


The park was bright and warm, full of small children and people walking their dogs and teens flying kites. Brienne felt peculiarly out of place clutching her picnic blanket and second guessing her capris, until she caught sight of Jaime. He was radiant in a white polo and khaki shorts, sunglasses hiding his gaze. He caught sight of her when she was about halfway across the field, turning to face her fully as he pushed his sunglasses up.

His hair was longer than when they had first met, she noticed, enough to smooth down beneath his sunglasses. She wanted to run her hands through it, to brush it away from his face or tuck it behind his ears.

"I thought this was supposed to stay kid friendly," he said in way of hello, raising an eyebrow at her blanket.

"It's for laying on, you ass," she shot back, embarrassed and snappish as she startled from her thoughts. Brienne closed her eyes and let out a breath, because she hadn't meant to start out sounding cross (gods, do you have to make everything so fucking hard?). "Let's just…sit."

Jaime watched her for a moment as she spread the blanket on the ground, then sat beside her.

"You picked an interesting place to have this conversation," he said, spreading his legs out in front of him. Brienne found her eyes catching on the strange places, like his kneecaps, the inner edge of his elbow, the lobe of his ear. She looked at her hands.

"We needed neutral ground. Just…somewhere low stakes where no one would overhear us, just…something honest."

He was quiet for a long moment, and Brienne glanced up to find him staring at her, expression unreadable.

"Never mind, maybe that's stupid," she said, shaking her head.

Jaime cracked a smile and laid down, wrists crossed over his eyes. "Relax, Brienne. I'm here, we're talking, it's fine."

Brienne sat hunched for a moment, gathering her courage. If he was alluring in the safety of dark and breathtaking in the burgeoning dawn, he was incandescent in the full sun, hair glittering gold, skin turned rich and warm. His shirt had gapped up above his waist band, showing the barest slice of smooth, muscled stomach.

Habit urged her to trace it with her fingers, her toes, her mouth, but she closed her eyes. That wasn't allowed now, she had to pull herself together, they weren't—

She wasn't the kind of person to have intimacy with someone she was fighting with, and it had taken her heart breaking on her entryway floor to realize it.

"I didn't mean to laugh at you," she whispered.

She stole a glance at Jaime to see him peering at her from beneath his wrists, expression immovable. She shook her head, face hot.

"When you—I know how it looked, but I wasn't making fun of you. I just—it surprised me, it seemed so…" Silly. Strange. Human. "Unexpected, I guess. I didn't mean to hurt you."

He looked at her for another moment, then let out a slow breath.

"Lay down, Brienne. The day's too pretty to waste sitting."

She hesitated a moment, then carefully let herself lie down beside him. He didn't look at her, just let his eyes drift shut. Brienne watched him for a moment, then turned her face to the sky. Clouds drifted past as children shrieked and played in the distance, as the occasional bumblebee hummed overhead, as they pretended that things weren't half so impossible as they were.

"I shouldn't have called you those things," he said unexpectedly.

Brienne looked at him, and she found him watching her. Only, this time his gaze was open and intimate, like they weren't in public, like nothing had ever been wrong, like it was just another morning together, the two of them stealing a few whispered minutes before one had to leave.

"You…my pride was hurt, and I let it spin out of control and you deserve better than that."

Brienne swallowed and looked away, feeling horridly exposed. "I…thank you."

They were quiet for another moment, then Jaime nudged her with his foot. "What, no apology for calling me a coward?"

"Gods, you're such a shit," she said, slapping him on the stomach. He laughed and grabbed her wrist, holding it against his chest so she couldn't hit him again. She rolled onto her side to take the strain off her shoulder, and for a moment, they just stared at each other, not saying anything.

She bit her lip again.

"About what you asked…telling people…"

"Oh, that." Jaime made a face and let go of her hand, rolling onto his back. "That was nothing, forget it."

Brienne blinked. "But you—didn't you—?"

"I just thought it'd be easier," he said with a shrug, voice light and airy. "Y'know, if anyone asked what the story was, why we…I don't know, act like we do."

"I—oh," she said, then again. "Oh. Well…okay. I just…didn't think it was anyone else's business."

"Right."

"Right. And…the drawers?"

He shrugged again. "Saves us from always having to pack a bag."

Jaime paused, glancing at her, and this was why she had asked to meet him in person, this was why she did not trust his words alone. To hear him say it, it meant nothing, this was a simple misunderstanding, there wasn't much more to discuss. But his eyes betrayed his doubt, his uncertainty, the thready fear that said he had exposed too much and he wasn't sure what all she had seen. It was never really about drawers or telling people, but Brienne certainly wasn't ready to confront what that left.

"Convenience," she repeated, trying the word out, seeing if it still fit.

"If…that's okay?"

"No," she said quickly, then caught herself and shook her head. "No, that's fine."

Brienne grimaced and looked up at the sky, trying to steady herself. She wished he was still holding her hand.

"So, now…?"

"I'd like to keep it going," he said, and it was amazing how he could make that sound so…courteous, maybe. Deliberate. Un-slimy. Just a simple, straightforward request.

He leaned forward, lowering his voice. "Though…I agree we should change some things. Like, we should learn how to talk when we're mad, instead of trying to fuck our feelings away."

"You can't say that when there are kids literally right there."

"That's why I'm whispering."

She laughed in spite of herself, so terribly relieved that they weren't fighting anymore, nervous over what would happen next, sad that it had taken things shattering so spectacularly for them to try and correct it. Brienne looked back at him, and for a moment she thought he might kiss her, but he pulled away. She bit her cheek, trying not to read into it as he sat up.

Jaime caught her expression and smiled.

"You said we were just going to talk, so kissing you breathless seems a little out of line with that."

Jaime tilted his head, suddenly thoughtful. He picked up her hand again and before she could say anything put her thumb in his mouth, running his tongue from palm to tip before pulling it back out. He smirked at the furious blush covering her cheeks.

"I'll make it up to you later, though."


Brienne couldn't help but fidget as she waited for Jaime to answer the door. She'd done this before, handfuls of times, it was not new to knock on Jaime's door at ten forty-two with the sole expectation of having sex and leaving in time to get a full seven hours of sleep before work the next day.

But it was the first time she had done so after a brutal fight with him, particularly one that ended in very hateful sex.

Maybe she should have waited longer before agreeing to resume. Maybe they should have made clearer rules. Maybe Jaime should hurry the hell up because if he didn't answer in three seconds, she would get cold feet and—

He opened the door, an easy, charming smile on his face. He leaned against the doorframe, arm propping open the door.

"Brienne," he said, like he always did, and, like it always did, it sent a shiver up her back.

She stepped past him, already having forgotten the rhythm of how all this went. Was it too forward to drop her jacket on the table and drag him to the bedroom, or should she make conversation first? But they were done with that, weren't they? They had said everything they could think of, there was no way he wouldn't make fun of her for striking up small talk when their entire purpose for meeting was to get off in the best, most straightforward way possible.

Jaime scoffed and put his hand on her shoulder.

"Woman, you're giving me a migraine just watching you," he said, pulling her by the hand to the bedroom.

Jaime sat her down on the bed and began undressing her. He knelt politely at her feet, pulling off shoes, then socks, then her athletic leggings. She drew in a breath as he rose to kiss her collarbone, her neck, her jaw, easing her shirt up over her head.

Jaime started to push Brienne back onto the bed, but she stopped him with a hand. He looked at her in question, and for a heartbreaking moment, she realized he was afraid, too. He was afraid that things were too uneasy, that she did not want him to do this, that they could never fix things. Somehow, for some reason, Jaime wanted so badly for things to be fixed, and Brienne could not bear to think why.

So, she made him stand up, pulled him between her knees, then pushed up his shirt hem. Jaime tugged it off with that one-handed, over the back of the head gesture she'd thought boys only did in movies. He looked down at her, all lean muscle and rumpled golden hair and open face.

Heartless, insincere Jaime and heartless, cold Brienne stared at each other like they might not make it through this, and that thought scared them more than anything.

Brienne placed her hands on his hips, gently, gently, barely touching him with her fingertips, trying to reacquaint herself with his body after the schism that had come between them. He raised a hand, hesitating for just a moment before he cupped the back of her head. Brienne paused, then leaned forward to kiss his stomach. He let out a slow, shuddering breath as she kissed him again, tension finally easing from his body.

They could do this, she told herself, it was just physical, that was all it was.

Jaime ran a hand through her hair, a touch almost hurtful for how easy it was, how deceptive, suggesting only softness existed between them, only trust. Brienne rested her forehead against his stomach, drawing in a breath, gathering her strength to survive just how dearly she wished that were the case.

But they could do this. They were fixing this. They would be alright.

Jaime's hands moved down to the nape of her neck, a caress that made her breath catch for completely different reasons. She placed an open-mouthed kiss beneath his navel, teeth just barely catching his skin. She undid the button of his jeans and pulled them off, then leaned back to look up at him, inviting him closer.

He leaned down to kiss her, carefully, gently easing his weight against her on the bed. Brienne wrapped her arms around his neck as he kissed her deeper, slow like this was the first time they had ever touched, like they had lifetimes for him to revel in her body.

Jaime spread her legs with his, his growing erection pressed up against her, making her gasp. She grabbed the blankets overhead as he rocked his hips against her, taunting and exquisite, even through her underwear. She bit her cheek, wanting to fight it, scared that maybe this wouldn't work, maybe they would just make a mockery of all that had come before, but then a breathy moan escaped her lips. Jaime gave a low hum as he did it again, slower, mouth finding her pulse point.

Brienne let herself move to meet him, pushing her hips down to increase the pressure between them, trying to stop thinking for a moment, trying to let the thrumming want inside of her be enough. Jaime must have heard the desperate plea in her head, because one hand clenched in her hair as the other slid down to her underwear, dragging it away enough to feel how wet she was, how ready, her body forgiving him even if her heart and her head were more unsure.

Because that was how they knew each other best, tragically, inevitably. She knew the moles on his back and the strength of his hands better than how he liked to spend his time after a long day, better than those tiny little moments that he still cherished as a kid. And it was the same for him, Jaime could not detail the way Brienne loved the dawn spreading over the Blackwater, nor explain why she always bought lilies for her father's birthday as a joke, but he intimately knew the scar on her lip and the length of her thighs and the way he could slide two fingers in and have her keening in moments.

Jaime kissed her softly, proving just how gentle he could be, how sweet, how careful, like he could erase the viciousness of their last encounter through tenderness now. And Brienne let him. She let him caress her cheek, let him murmur his nothings, let this moment cover up the last, let him hide in the senseless pleasure of her hands and mouth on his body because she was doing the same. She didn't need to make this harder than it already was, she didn't need anything more than him right there, his heat anchoring her in the moment, hand bracing against her spine as her back arched, lips caressing the tender gully of her breasts.

Jaime pulled away after a moment, settling back against the pillows. His voice when he called her was low and urgent, like any second not touching her was an agony. He pulled her closer, adjusting the blankets around her waist so she would be comfortable. He let out the most indecent breath when she slid onto him, satisfaction and relief and anticipation mingling into a single exhale. He kissed her deeper this time, gasping slightly as she moved against him. His hands splayed across her back, trying to cover as much skin as possible, his breath on her collarbones and neck and breasts, groaning as she angled him deeper.

Brienne braced her hand against the wall, the other on his shoulder, his neck, anything to make this last. Jaime pulled her hand up to his face, leaning into it, pressing it against his mouth. He met her gaze as he kissed her palm, eyes so green it made her throat ache, because she knew what he was trying to say, even if his words failed him.

I'm sorry, they said, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I promise I will never again hurt you.

But that was the thing, Brienne thought as he clutched at her and became undone beneath her hands, that was the problem she didn't know how to fix; Brienne cared for Jaime very, very much, but she was not sure if she could trust him, yet.


Brienne tapped her spoon on the counter, waiting for Sansa to come back from the bathroom. They had just finished a long overdue movie night and mostly it had been fun, with ice cream and laughter and talking over the boring middle section until they reached the good parts at the end. Brienne liked spending time with Sansa, liked feeling like things weren't always so serious, so dire, liked that the girl could wrap even the most terrible situations into a tidy box to be dealt with later.

And, even though Sansa was younger than her, she knew quite a bit more about boys (though, tragically, she seemed only to attract the bad kind). At best, she could help guide Brienne through whatever the hell it was she was doing, and at worst, she could tell Brienne whether she needed to jump ship as fast as she could.

Sansa came back into the room, complimenting the new lighthouse photo Brienne had put up in the hall. Brienne let her sit at the counter and eat a bite of her half-melted ice cream.

"I think I'm having an affair."

Sansa coughed and looked up at Brienne, hand covering her mouth. "I'm sorry, what?"

"I'm having an affair."

Brienne waited as Sansa dealt with her coughing fit, and finally she gasped, "Why? I mean—gods, is he married?"

"No," Brienne said, shaking her head. "It's not—I'm not breaking up a relationship, I just…am having a casual sexual relationship with a man and it's gone on for several weeks, now. Over a month, really. Two months."

"And…?"

"I don't know, it's complicated."

Sansa raised her eyebrows and waved for her to continue. Brienne sighed. She didn't know if she had the words to explain this.

"It's complicated as in…"

As in she very much thought he might like her, not just like having sex with her, which was unlikely and presumptuous, but for the life of her she could not imagine what else he meant when he looked her so candidly in the eye and, gods, she wanted it to be true but it couldn't be, it couldn't, it couldn't.

"Did you catch feelings?" Sansa asked, expression one of pure feminine concern. Brienne couldn't do that. She usually just ended up looking angry or irritatedly worried. But Sansa was all her mother, delicate grace and dignity, whereas Brienne was just her father—big feet, long legs, and an ability to be nervous anytime they faced a crowd.

Brienne smiled ruefully. "I didn't even know that was allowed."

"Okay," Sansa said, eyebrows pulling together in either confusion or concern. "Okay, sooo…what happened?"

"We had a fight. It was…bad. I—I don't know, I think he wanted more and I didn't know what to do with that, but now we've moved past it but it still feels a mess and…" She huffed out a breath. "It's complicated."

"How…did this even start?" Sansa asked. "I wouldn't have expected you to do…this."

Jaime had said the same thing, once, only then it had felt almost like a compliment, fidelity in an arrangement with absolutely no strings.

Fidelity, and yet they had been so quick to abandon each other to their worst assumptions.

Brienne sighed, looking at her. "Honestly?"

"Yes."

"He was such a shitty person that I never thought I could get attached. When he said he was interested in me, it just seemed so…empty, so self-serving, I could never care about someone like him. And normally I would have told him no, but I just…got tired. I'm tired of people pitying me because they think I have to settle or end up alone because no one would really ever find me attractive, but he did and he's handsome and charming and clever and I just—I thought it wouldn't matter. I thought I would be safe to go have fun like everyone else, I guess. But now I'm scared that maybe it does matter, he does like me but I don't know if he's still a shitty person or if I made it all up, and I'm really scared that maybe I'm overthinking myself into pretending to care about him but I'm so, so scared that no one will ever like me again if I end things and I just—"

Brienne looked down at her hands, hating the lump in her throat, hating the double standard that had always stared her in the face. She had accused Jaime of using people, but she had blithely done the same to him.

"I didn't know this was allowed to be more than just sex until I'd laughed at him for offering," Brienne told her, self-consciousness slipping into defensiveness in spite of herself. "But I mean—what else was I supposed to think, after that whole 'love is for abject fools' line?"

Sansa let out a breath, eyebrows raised. "Oooookay. So, what's happening now? Is it still going on?"

"Yes," Brienne admitted, a defeat. "We had an ugly fight, then we made up, and…I don't know, it's the same as before."

"I thought you said he wanted more."

"I don't know, he's not been very reliable on the subject."

Not true. He had told her with his hands and his eyes and the apology in his smile that he did, he did, he wanted so much more but he was willing to hide it if that was what kept Brienne around and she just—

"Do you think maybe you guys are doing this whole thing wrong?"

"Yeah," Brienne sighed. "It's definitely occurred to me."

"So…why don't you stop? If this is so weird and uncomfortable for you, why don't you leave?"

Because they'd tried that, and it cut her open. Because when they didn't try to deal with anything deeper, they were alright. Because when they were just having fun, when they could claim nothing mattered, Brienne might almost have tricked herself into being in love with him.

Sansa let out a breath when Brienne didn't answer.

"Okay, well, that's just something to think on. There's this idea I came across in one of my sociology courses at school—don't laugh, I'm being serious—saying basically…relationships are a pyramid. All relationships, romantic, familial, platonic. And to be balanced, you need a strong foundation of who they are, then what they believe in, then finally, for romantic, the physical side. You need the foundation before the sex, or else things become all lopsided and you form these deep attractions without knowing if you're compatible, which will lead to collapse."

"So, your sociology course thinks casual sex is doomed to fail?" Brienne asked dryly. It would be nice if Sansa's course had made a formal appearance before Brienne agreed to this whole mess.

"Not necessarily," Sansa said, whirling her spoon around her fully melted ice cream. "You can have sex without having a relationship, just fine. It's just that you two have a relationship, but it's failing because it's only based on sex."

"Okay."

"I dunno, it's just an idea," Sansa said, shrugging. "But I think the problem is that you are looking for something sex can't give, and maybe he is too, only you two haven't realized it and you certainly haven't talked about it."

Brienne considered her, then carried her empty ice cream bowl to the sink.


you free tonight?

No, sorry, my dad's in town and we're grabbing dinner.

yeah, that might be an awkward conversation.

-four hours later-

enjoy dinner?

You seriously that bored?
Yeah, it was nice.

I was trying to be polite, but fine, I'll fuck off

Relax, you're fine.

nope, sorry, too busy fucking off

That's disgusting.

okay, that's an established phrase and not even what I meant, so you're the disgusting one

Fine.

-thirty minutes later-

Are you still interested?
Are you busy?
Am I too late?
Are you still awake?

yes

Do you still want to come over?

dad not there?

I thought he'd stay later, but apparently he needs to be back in Evenfall early tomorrow.

give me twenty minutes

😜

don't make me regret this

you never do


Brienne was sick to death of going to parties. This one had no work benefit, hardly anyone she liked was attending, and she strongly suspected Renly had invited her to show they were still friends, despite her abrupt departure to work with Catelyn's non-profit. She also strongly suspected he didn't think she would actually attend, which was true. Brienne was quite happy spending her weekend cleaning out her closets and de-cluttering the spare room.

Then Jaime had texted to see if she would come, and she just…stood there, surprised.

Did this mean something? This didn't mean anything. He was probably just bored at the thought of attending one of his good brother's parties and knew she might be there…though he'd never asked her before.

Undecided, she wrote back, then added that they were not going to sneak off to have sex, even if she did attend.

Jaime's incredibly gracious response was that it would be her loss, which made Brienne smile and want to write back that he was hardly an uninterested party, but she didn't know if that was allowed anymore. Brienne had let herself be far more flirtatious than she ever would have ever dreamed, back when this was nothing but a standing arrangement. Now, though, it felt wrong, a claim to something she no longer had.

If…that's okay with you?

Brienne bit her cheek and put the image of a temptingly uncertain, sun-drenched Jaime out of her mind as she got ready to go. She applied plenty of sunscreen, slipped into her white sundress (the only other dress she owned), fumbled through her earrings, gave up, then resignedly put on a pair of sandals. She didn't know if she was dressing up for Jaime. She didn't know if any of it mattered. She was just so tired of questioning herself.

The party wasn't actually at Renly's pretentious suburban two story, but the 'country home' of Loras Tyrell; a tidy compromise between the Tyrell's sprawling vineyard estate in the Reach and their incredibly trendy properties in the heart of King's Landing. The buildings themselves weren't much to write home about, just a small albeit charming farmhouse complete with barn, but he boasted enormous grounds with acres of gardens, a hedge maze, and a cherry orchard. It was absolutely beautiful, but all the flowers in the world did not make up for tents and tents and tents of people Brienne did not want to speak to.

It wasn't terrible, she supposed. The food was alright, and Margaery stopped by and thoughtfully asked about Selwyn, and apparently there would be games later, but Brienne was always keenly aware of the way people looked past her, or, even worse, pretended not to notice her as they whispered behind their hands. At least Jaime had had the courtesy to be rude to her face.

Brienne pried herself away from the main party and her surly thoughts to wander the gardens, the music and buzz of conversation slowly swallowed by birdsong and the murmur of wind.

A soft, electric hum broke the quiet, and Brienne turned to find Tyrion Lannister of all people, whirring up to her on a golf cart. He smiled pleasantly at her, coming to a stop at her side.

"Hello," he said, allowing her a moment to collect herself and do more than just stare at him.

"Uh…hi."

"Enjoying the party?"

"It's lovely."

"And yet you're out here," he said, tilting his head.

"I felt like a walk," she said defensively. This was her first time speaking to another Lannister, outside of a brief exchange with Cersei a year ago that left her feeling strangely small. Brienne was starting to wonder if she was going to spend every first meeting with a Lannister justifying herself.

"Did Loras just…have that in store for you?" she asked, changing the subject. She pointed at the pedal extender he was using to drive.

"Ah…no, these are from my car. I'm not actually supposed to know where he keeps the keys to the golf cart," Tyrion said, giving her a roguish smile. "In any case, would you be interested in taking a tour of the cherry orchards? They're prize winning, I'm told."

"I'm sure." Brienne studied him, trying to decide what all Jaime had told his brother about her. Then again, she probably didn't want to know. "I…should probably get back, Renly will think I'm being rude or—"

"Brienne," Tyrion said, still smiling, "just accept my excuse to talk and get in the golf cart."

She hesitated, then walked around to the passenger seat. She felt awkward settling beside Tyrion, acutely aware of both how much space she was taking up and Tyrion's reputation. People called him the Imp behind his back, because when Tywin needed grimy, heartless work done, he sent his youngest son. Where Jaime charmed and Cersei dazzled, Tyrion was said to appall, devastating people into submission. But now he was humming pleasantly, pointing out statues commissioned from Meereen and relaying brief anecdotes about the grounds.

"Spend time here often?" she asked after a moment, because she was too awkward to stay silent and a tiny part of her wondered if perhaps she was being unnecessarily cold.

"Gods, no, Loras is about as interesting as a block of cheese. But he has excellent landscaping, and I've been toying with buying a summer home. Escape the city, flaunt it to all my associates who wasted their money on old, creaky high rises with abysmal plumbing, things like that."

Brienne managed to sit in silence for another thirty seconds before she burst out, "Did you want to talk about Jaime or what?"

Tyrion paused the cart just outside the cherry orchard, giving her a surprised look. "I thought you might prefer an easing into the subject, a clever segue to help you relax, show I have no nefarious intentions."

How very different from Jaime he was, I thought you might prefer easing into the subject instead of do we skip to the good part?

"I don't really enjoy suspense," she told him.

"Noted," Tyrion said, starting up the cart again. He paused for a moment, then said, "I'm assuming you both have resumed whatever you're calling it, then?"

"Whatever we're calling it," Brienne sighed, deciding exhaustion was better than embarrassment. The air smelled pleasantly earthy, sweet grass and fallen cherries, the air so clean that the city seemed miles away. "Yeah, I guess. Did he…what did he tell you?"

"Nothing much," Tyrion said. "I guessed, mostly. Jaime's never one to kiss and tell."

And she had accused him of viewing her like a trophy, bragging that he could topple anyone, even a woman that hated him.

"No, it's just that he's seemed…different. Preoccupied. He was really happy there for a while, then a bastard to be around, now just…preoccupied. Worried, maybe, or sad."

"Don't tell me he's better around me, that I fix him," Brienne said warningly, getting out of the cart.

"Oh no," Tyrion said, shaking his head. "Jaime's a grown man, if he still needs someone to provide happiness for him, that's his own fault. But he does like you, genuinely, which is quite the feat for a man so un-genuine in everything else."

Tyrion paused for a moment, and Brienne thought that might be it, a tepid summing up all they had done, he genuinely likes you and nothing else, congratulations.

She turned to pick some cherries so he couldn't see her face.

"The only thing is…I'm not sure my brother really knows how love works, so he can't even recognize if it's that."

Brienne looked at the ground, hating that casual confirmation of what she had always feared.

"That's not a very nice thing to say," she told Tyrion, because otherwise her throat might close.

"Oh, but it's honest, and you appreciate that," Tyrion said, all Lannister charm, like he didn't even know what an imp was.

"Didn't you want cherries?" she asked, desperately trying to sweep away everything Tyrion had just dumped in her lap.

He waved a hand, still lounging in the shade of the cart. "No, I'm not particularly fond. But if you'd like, you can put them in this." He pulled a tan brimmed hat from the storage compartment behind their seats and held it out to her.

Brienne stared at it for a second. "That's…your hat."

"Oh, it's cheap and meant as an insult, anyway. Cersei bought it for me because she lives to point out how bulbous my head is, and I only wore it to show she doesn't have very impressive fangs, but she didn't even end up coming and my spite would be wasted. So, really, you'd be doing me a favor if you stained it with cherry juice."

She blinked at him a few times, her handful of cherries held uncertainly in the air.

Tyrion smiled at her again, this one a little more crooked and honest than the easy, palatable things he'd given before. "This, Brienne, is the family he comes from. He's just better at hiding his ugly edges."

"That's a ringing endorsement," she muttered, taking the hat and turning to pick more cherries.

"Isn't it, though?" Tyrion paused, gaze growing a little distant like he was remembering a time or a place that was barely real. "We Lannisters are difficult, we make each other more difficult, and it's hard to find people that are willing to weather that. If you're going to make a decision, you should know all of that. More than you already do," he said, focusing on her again with another sardonic smile. "You shouldn't be victim to Jaime being shit at explaining himself."

Brienne was quiet a moment, stripping the branch in front of her before daring a question.

"Why…does Jaime not know what love is?"

Tyrion sighed. "Because he's stubborn and occasionally a fool. After watching our grandfather ruin himself for love, our father ruin everyone else after having lost it, and others use, lose, and abuse it…it can make even the starriest idealist jaded. Easier to seal it off, pretend he doesn't need it."

Brienne picked another cherry, sullenly dropping it in her makeshift bag.

That was…terribly familiar, she had to admit. She had dreamed of fairytale loves as a child, messy and fraught but always valiant, always true. And then she had grown up, and the teasing and mocking and hurt had turned her hard. After all, she had only let herself love Jaime in the spaces that held no words, when she could pretend in the ambiguity of early dawn or after midnight that whatever was not convenient to her did not exist.

"What do you suggest?" Brienne asked.

"Ask him," Tyrion said simply. "Just…talk. It might take a while, but Jaime will tell you the truth."


Tyrion left Brienne outside the gardens, waving for her to keep his hat. She stared as his stolen golf cart hummed away, feeling a bit like she had just found a local cryptid and failed to take pictures.

She walked back into the main garden, nibbling on cherries.

I'm not sure my brother knows how love works.

"Brienne! You're here."

She looked around to see Jaime scrambling up from his seat, smile big and pleased, and this was the first time, she thought. This was the first time he had looked openly happy to see her, not smug, not annoyed, not wary, just happy she existed, and she wanted it so badly that her bones ached.

"I didn't see you earlier, so I thought you hadn't come after all."

"Oh, uh, I went to pick cherries," she said awkwardly, holding them up.

"Is that—never mind. Everyone's trying to use this party for networking and I can't keep lying about people calling me over, let's get out of here."

"I told you I'm not—"

"I know," he said, waving a hand. "I won't do anything untoward, I promise."

"We have very different definitions of that word," Brienne said dryly.

"Okay, well, either we leave or we both stand here and suffer through Tarly explaining why women are too hormonal to be in high-powered business," he said, pointedly looking over her shoulder.

"Get me the fuck out of here," she muttered, dropping the cherries on Jaime's vacated chair. He grinned and took her hand, pulling her back into the hedge maze.

The air was thick with the scent of flowers, and birds called from deeper in the garden. Jaime kept looking back at her, grinning, and it should have filled her with a giddy delight, but Brienne just felt a gnawing worry in her chest.

They stopped when they reached a small courtyard, complete with burbling fountain. It was quiet here, the party a muzzy memory.

Jaime sat on the edge of the fountain, patting the spot beside him. Brienne sat hesitantly, close enough that their arms brushed.

They looked a pair, she thought, her in her white dress, him in his beige summer suit.

"What now?"

"Oh, you know," he said, leaning in. Brienne rolled her eyes and sat forward, taking his weight off her side.

"We're not kissing here, I'm not risking falling in."

"Where's your sense of adventure?"

"At home with my towel."

Jaime laughed, and then slid off the edge of the fountain to sit on the ground, looking at her like he was ready to thwart her next protest. He wrapped his hand around her ankle, gently, gently, fingers barely there as they brushed from the top of her foot up her calf.

Brienne put her hand on his head and turned it so he looked up at her. Jaime gave her a completely innocent what? face, making Brienne roll her eyes. He leaned his cheek against her leg, expression sweet and utterly disarming. And then he turned and kissed her knee with enough reverence to make her breath catch.

It was in moments like this that she thought she almost hated him, because she was hurt and mad and confused, had been for a long time because he never took responsibility for the things he did and he never asked her how she felt about anything that happened until after the fact and he could be so mean sometimes and gods be good, she had just learned that he might never know what it meant to love her properly. And yet here she was, sitting with him in a beautiful garden next to a fountain, his chin on her knee and his hand on her ankle and the look in his eyes saying he thought she held up the sky.

Brienne let him pull her down onto his lap because she didn't know how to defend herself from that. She didn't know how to pull away, how to not give herself body and soul when he asked without ever using his words and it wasn't fair.

He kept kissing her, lovely and slow, and Brienne could almost let herself forget everything spinning in her head, could embrace that bedtime story kind of love that had kept her safe for so long, the kind without arguments, explanations, or compromises. It could be real, in the picturesque beauty of the garden. It could be real, kissing a man handsome enough to be a hero of legend.

"You are," he began, hands on her thighs (how had they gotten there?), "the only woman I know that would wear boy shorts beneath a sundress."

"And exactly how many women are you putting your hands up the skirts of?"

He smiled at her, less a roguish however many I want and more a cheeky come now, Brienne, why would I bother with anyone else?

"I like it, though," he mumbled, slowly tracing the waistband.

"Yeah, just because you're a terrible opportunist," she muttered, pulling the skirt down lower so she wasn't entirely exposing herself. The grit from the pavers dug into her knees, making her grimace and shift and regret sitting down at all.

"Is this the only other dress you own?" Jaime asked, leaning his head back to look at her.

Brienne watched him warily. "…Why?"

He smiled again, shaking his head. "You didn't look like you knew how to stand in it. Like, you were incredibly aware that you were in a dress instead of pants."

She scowled at him. "That's not a compliment."

"It wasn't meant to be one," he said, giving her pursed mouth a peck. "Just an observation, the same way I observe that I would really enjoy you in fishnets."

The words came with an accompanying squeeze to her bottom that made Brienne smack Jaime on the forehead with her palm. He laughed and tried to kiss it, but she snatched her hands away, annoyed at the thrill that went through her stomach.

Jaime considered her a moment, head tilted. "You seem off."

She rolled her eyes. "Thanks."

He leaned back, resting against the edge of the fountain. "Did I do something?"

"Not yet."

"Does this have something to do with you arriving from the cherry orchard with my brother's hat?"

Brienne bit her lip, looking down at him.

Jaime gave her an easy smile that didn't quite reach his eyes. "Tyrion likes to meddle in things because it gives him control. What did he say?"

"He just…asked if we were…you know. Still doing this," she said, waving a hand.

"Right, I'll be sure to tell him it's none of his fucking business."

Jaime leaned forward to kiss her again, and this time Brienne stopped him with a hand on his chest.

"Why do you always kiss me like you want me to stop talking?"

Jaime blinked at her, expression blank with surprise. "I…what?"

"It feels like—no matter where we are, no matter what I say, you always end up kissing me in the middle like I'm just a thing for sex."

He pulled back as much as he could, hands retreating from beneath her skirt like she'd burned him. "I don't do that every—"

"Not every time. But—Jaime," she said, looking at him, helpless because a thousand words were bubbling up in her throat, wishes and pleas and questions, but none of them helped. "I don't want our only choices to be…"

Fucking or fighting. She didn't need to say it for the words to muddy the bright, summer air.

Jaime let out a slow, thoughtful breath. She thought he might protest, ironically fighting about fighting with her, but he just looked at her.

"I don't want us to end up doing things that make me feel sick later," she whispered. "It hurts too much, Jaime. I can't stand to willfully let myself be hurt."

He blinked once, slowly, thinking so damnably loud even though she couldn't tell a thing that passed through his mind.

"I don't want to do things that make me feel sick later, either," he said slowly, each word perfectly formed like agonizing pearls. "I…never meant to make you feel…less. I didn't mean to cheapen you."

Brienne huffed out a sigh, unable to keep from rolling her eyes. "I'd believe that more if you didn't explicitly tell me this was just sex, time after time after time."

"Right." Jaime cleared his throat and looked down.

Brienne closed her eyes, wishing her nerves hadn't made her voice so terse, so condemning. She meant what she had said, yes, but she wished she could have made it come out softer, could have spun it all like Jaime was so practiced at doing.

"Is…is this…?" he asked, making her look back at him. He gestured vaguely at her still seated on his lap.

"I—uh, yeah, this is…this is fine." She could feel herself flushing, shit, why did she always end up having these conversations while straddling him, why couldn't she ever plan these things better?

"But the…when we had the fight…you…"

"I…don't want us to end up in that situation again."

"Right."

"Just—you just have to talk to me, Jaime," she said grabbing his shoulders and making him look at her. She hated that flat, not-there look on his face, hated how it always happened when they talked about these things, hated how it made her feel like she might never be able to find him again. "I don't know what's going on in your head, you have to let me know. You have to talk to me, you just…please, just give me a choice."

He inhaled like he wanted to say something, then slowly let it out with a nod. He looked down again, and she was aware of all his tiny, exquisite little details, like the way the sun caught his eyelashes, the shift of his shirt when he breathed, the vaguest thrum of a pulse above his shirt collar. In this light, he looked less a god than a man. In this light, he looked like someone who understood.

"Why did you ask me to do this with you?" she whispered, barely aware she'd spoken until he looked up at her.

"I thought we'd discussed this."

"Kind of. Not really. Why…me?"

"Because I found you attractive."

Brienne knew that already (Jaime never really bothered to hide when he was aroused, and after a point, Brienne had to admit it wasn't happenstance every single time), but it was different from hearing it. It was different from hearing him admit it so casually, like it was no revelation or shocking truth. He, damnably handsome Jaime Lannister, liked her broad shoulders and thick legs and muscled arms and pale skin that turned blotchy red when exposed to sun or heat or embarrassment. He found her height and her too pointy nose and perpetual frown lines…attractive, even drunk, even sober, in public and alone.

"Don't tell me you found me being rude to you all day attractive," she said, because that was easier than admitting she couldn't keep hiding from what he'd always made apparent; that he liked her for her and maybe even—probably even—

"Didn't you know?" he asked, frowning playfully. "That's my kink."

Brienne snorted and tried to smack his shoulder, but he laughed and caught her hand, pulling it to the side so they ended up hugging.

They held each other for a moment, quiet and steady like the world had been righted.

"Did Tyrion say something to cause all this?" Jaime asked, quietly, quietly, like he was only asking because he couldn't see her face.

She buried her mouth against his shoulder, thinking for a long moment before she knew what she wanted to say.

"He told me things would be difficult, but that I should talk to you. And I know I'm not good at this, I know it always comes out…wrong. Combative. But I am so tired of arguing about things after they happen, instead of trying to head them off."

Jaime held her tighter, squeezing her chest hard enough that it should have hurt, but it didn't, it felt grounding and honest and intimate enough to make her head spin.

"I don't…want to fight with you," he said tentatively, and for once it was Jaime that didn't know how to place his words, Jaime who stumbled through his sentences. "I know we bicker and it's—I know I can—I find it fun and I don't always—I don't mean to hurt you, Brienne. I don't want to leave marks. I also don't want our only choices to be…that."

Brienne's throat hurt with all of the words she didn't know how to say. She held him even tighter, her hands in his hair, cradling him to her, because then maybe he might understand everything spinning around her head.

Brienne worried her lip with her teeth. They weren't done, yet. Much as she wanted to stop now, to hold on this beautiful, candid moment, she couldn't. Her father had told her, straightforward and true—she was not one to settle.

She dragged in a breath, held it, then finally made herself ask, "Why did you ask me the second time? Why…why bother trying again?"

Jaime let out a long, weary sigh, and she was terribly afraid for a moment that he might not answer, that he might push the question aside.

"Because I missed you," he admitted, still not looking at her. "Because…I didn't want us to be broken."

Brienne swallowed and looked up at the heartache blue sky. She still didn't know what to do with all of that, but it was good enough for now.

The next day, Sansa texted that Margaery had seen Brienne leaving with Jaime Lannister, and no wonder Brienne had said things were complicated.

Brienne's hand hovered over her phone, wanting to point out that she hadn't left the party with Jaime, she had merely walked away from the main group with Jaime and then separately had gone home to have a perfectly solitary evening. Then she wanted to point out that no, it wasn't complicated the way Sansa thought it was complicated (okay, well…maybe), then finally wanted to say that, actually, they had resolved some things, more or less, so it wasn't really worth the text anyway, could Sansa please just keep her fingers out of it, Brienne was dealing with it, it would be so much easier if no one looked at her or Jaime ever again.

She erased her myriad false starts, then finally settled on 'You have no idea.'


-missed call, Brienne to Jaime-

did you mean to call me?

yes
Can you come over?
It's not for sex, I just feel like I'm going to scream and I don't want to be alone right now and I understand this isn't really what we agreed on, but I feel like I'm about to crawl out of my skin and you're the only person I can think of that won't make a huge fuss so it's just for company.

that was a long pause

I figured I'd better come back and make things clear.

Is everything alright?

Yeah, just a long day.
I don't really want to be alone.

-five minutes later-

You know what, forget it, it's fine.
Don't worry about it, I'll be okay.

well, shit

what?

I've already left.


This time, Brienne was nervous to let Jaime in. There wasn't really a purpose in asking him over, there wasn't anything she needed him to do, but she'd had a terrible day and she hadn't slept well and she wanted to scream and couldn't stand being so alone.

And he had said he would come. She had asked for his company and before she could change her mind, he had already been on his way.

Brienne indulged in a few minutes of tense worry whether he had changed his mind over her text, then began tearing her junk mail into precise, little strips so she could keep her hands busy because she might punch something otherwise.

She almost tripped in her haste to answer his knock.

"Brienne," he said with a smile, though she could see the care with which he studied her face. "Is everything alright?"

"Yeah, it's fine. Just—" She broke off, realizing she didn't have an excuse. She shook her head and slipped back to let him in.

Jaime caught sight of the pile of shredded paper on her counter and raised his eyebrows. "Oh-kay."

"Don't," she muttered in annoyance, quickly sweeping it into the trash. "I just needed something to do with my hands."

"Okay."

"And this isn't a booty call."

"Okay."

"Stop saying—" She closed her eyes and let out a breath. He was here to help her. It might not be comfortable, but he was here to help.

Jaime moved past her and pulled a cup from the cabinet. "So, how's your day?"

"Shit."

"Care to explain?"

"No."

Jaime filled the cup from the fridge, eyebrows raising yet again as if to say you called me, remember? Brienne rolled her eyes.

"Just…I didn't sleep great, and I forgot to make my lunch, and I also managed to leave my milk out on the counter last night and only noticed when I got home and—"

"It's shit," he said, holding out the glass of water to her.

She deflated. "Yes."

"Alright, well, what do you need from me?"

Brienne chewed her cheek. "Can you—no. Okay. Hm." She sipped the water, hoping he didn't notice her blush.

Jaime narrowed his eyes, a curious smile on his lips. "What?"

"Nothing. I just wanted some company and I knew you wouldn't try to…fix everything."

He braced his hip against the counter, leaning in slightly. "Y'know, you're terrible at deflections."

"I don't—" she began, but Jaime reached out to take the hand not holding her cup.

"You can tell me, Brienne."

She let out a slow breath. "Can you…just…please lay directly on top of me until I calm down because I think I might scream and I don't want to do that."

She thought he might have laughed at her, but instead he just tilted his head, eyebrows pulled in slight confusion.

"You…want me to be a human weighted blanket?"

"Yes," she said, the word rushing out in a huff.

"Maybe I shouldn't have given you all of that water," he said mildly, and she almost laughed, except she knew she would end up crying so she just put down the cup and led him to the living room.

They pushed the coffee table out of the way, and Jaime handed Brienne a throw pillow. She took it awkwardly and sat down, looking up at him.

"Well, come on, get comfortable," Jaime said, waving a hand. Brienne scowled and laid down, toes clenching in her socks as he stood over her, considering. Jaime carefully got to his knees, paused, then laid on top of her.

"Is this okay?" he asked, still bracing part of his weight on his forearms. Brienne let out a slow breath, closing her eyes.

"Yes," she said, almost a whisper. "You can put your full weight on me."

"Okay. I'm not crushing you, right?"

"Not yet. Stop talking."

He chuckled a little, a hm-hm she felt almost as if it had come from her.

"Okay, Brienne. I've got you. It's okay, I've got you," he murmured, voice the softest caress she had ever known.

Jaime nestled his face against her neck, breath warm and slow, and he settled his hand against the side of her face. He gently, gently brushed the pad of his finger along the curve of her ear, back and forth, slowly calming her down. Brienne felt her heartbeat mellow to match his, and she closed her eyes, focusing on the measure of his breath and heart and hand.

It shouldn't be like this, the skittish part of her whispered. It shouldn't be so easy for her to just forgive him, to feel at ease when he was there, to turn to him before everyone else. She should not trust him, she should not care.

But she did. She had forgiven Jaime more than she could stand, needed him more than she could bear. And they had put in the work, they were trying to be better. They had talked and they had listened and, gods help her, she trusted him. She had no words for it, no explanation, but Brienne trusted Jaime with her happiness and her safety and her comfort, and she could never go back.

"Okay," she said, tapping his side, suddenly light-headed. "You can get off."

Jaime made to sit up, but she grabbed his sleeve, devastated at the thought of his parting. He looked down at her, gaze so pure and intense it was like the first time she had ever been seen. She couldn't breathe for a moment, caught in his stare, and then Jaime gently settled beside her. He slung an arm over her body, hand carelessly pressed against her side.

"Feeling better?" he asked.

"Not yet," she admitted. "But I'm getting there."

He smiled. "Alright. I can do getting there."

She stared at the ceiling, scared to meet his gaze again. Somehow, this felt more intimate than all the times they'd laid naked together in bed, more intimate than when he'd kissed her hands or mouth or breasts or thighs. It was them with no pretense, no purpose, just existing together because they wished it to be.

She stole a glance at him. He had closed his eyes, a few locks of hair out of place. She smiled, uncertain if she wanted to brush them aside.

"Are we going to fall asleep here?" he asked, eyes still closed.

"No."

He looked at her. "Feeling ready to move?"

"Yeah, Jaime, I can do that."

"Then we should get you to bed."

She almost said it was still early, that she was fine, they could stand to stay there a little longer, but she just nodded. They sat upright and Jaime rubbed a hand over her shoulders, a brisk back and forth that sent shivers down her back.

Jaime led her to the bedroom, then stopped in the doorway. "You don't need me to help you undress, right?"

She gave him a look, and he raised his hands in defense.

"Hey, I'm just trying to be helpful."

"No, I don't need help."

"Okay." The corner of his mouth lifted in the beginnings of a smile as he watched her, before he glanced down self-consciously. "Right, well, good night, then. Glad you're feeling better."

Jaime turned to leave, but Brienne grabbed his hand again. He looked down in surprise, then back at her.

It wasn't so strange, was it? It wasn't so strange for her to reach for him, to wish him to stay?

"Don't…you don't have to go."

"I didn't bring anything," he said cautiously, giving her time to back out, to correct herself, to not commit.

"That's okay."

"Okay," he agreed. "I can stay, Brienne."

They got ready for bed, finding him a spare toothbrush, turning off the lights, plugging in their phones for the night. Brienne made sure to change into her sleep shirt and old jersey shorts while he was in the bathroom, strangely nervous for him to see her naked. She was bare as she could stand already, she didn't need to rid herself of the protection of clothes.

Jaime didn't seem to have the same problem, slipping into bed in just his trunks. He seemed for all the world perfectly at ease, except for the careful space he left between them, the respectful distance he didn't presume to cross. She clicked off the lamp and laid down beside him, watching his outline in the dark.

Brienne waited for her eyes to adjust, then said, "Jaime?"

"Mm?"

"Why…why do people think you're so terrible when you're really so kind?"

He laughed, but it was a hollow, thin thing. "Well, good night to you, too."

"Jaime." She reached out and took his hand. "You know what I mean."

"I don't know," he sighed, shifting to tuck his arm under his pillow. "Because I'm a Lannister? Because I'm not kind, a lot of the time. Because it's easier to do what everyone expects, instead of constantly swimming upstream."

Brienne held her breath, thinking of how easily she'd written him off, how surprised she'd been when he'd first said, I don't want you mad at me, how easily she had laughed when he asked for something more, how she had spent weeks furious at him, ascribing the worst because she could.

"And…is it worth it? Being kind now?"

He was quiet for a long moment, and she wished she could see his face, ached to know what he was thinking, terrified that perhaps she might not like the truth, after all.

"Yeah, Brienne," Jaime whispered, the word barely there in the dark. "It was worth it."

She opened her mouth to respond, licked her lips, reconsidered. She resisted the urge to squeeze his hand as she asked her next question, refusing to bias his response.

"What if…what if this is all we ever are? What if we don't become anything else?"

He was quiet for a moment, then let out a soft sigh. "Then I would have to learn to live with it."

He reached for her as he spoke, pulling Brienne close like he needed to make the most of this time while he had it.

Brienne blinked, swallowed, then wrapped her arms around him in return. She kissed him on the mouth, just once, and closed her eyes.


The morning was hazy and grey, the thin sort of predawn that eventually bloomed into a warm, sun-kissed day. Brienne just watched Jaime, his face gentle in sleep. She had the childish urge to trace his features with her fingers, drifting over his nose and mouth and cheek.

Why did you come here? she wanted to whisper, her habitual worry. Why me, what does it mean, why, why, why?

But he had told her, time and again. With his words and his presence and his kisses, he had told her it was because of love. And maybe he wasn't entirely sure of it, maybe he didn't realize what all it entailed, maybe he had run away the first time because he was afraid. But Brienne was afraid too. She didn't understand the shape of love, didn't know where it began and ended, didn't know where she would be in ten days or a month or five years, but for now…

Brienne slipped out of bed, padding around the kitchen for something to eat. She settled on a peach, absently slicing it over the sink so she wouldn't get juice anywhere. Sun spilled over the city, quiet on the weekend, filled with the hum of people barely waking up. She couldn't taste the anxiety and frustration she'd carried last night, nor the stress and dread that had been there for weeks. She felt…light. Hopeful. New.

Jaime padded up behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist. He buried his face into her neck, breathing deep like he hadn't been awake before he caught her scent.

"Good morning," she said, rinsing her hands so he might not notice her shiver.

"You're up early," he mumbled, scruff tickling her skin.

"Yeah, because you sent me to bed like I was eight."

He chuckled, the sound yet again rumbling through her bones, the sound of not being alone. Brienne leaned her head against his shoulder, letting out a slow breath.

Jaime pulled her closer, pressing their bodies flush against each other. She raised her eyebrows, not exactly sure if she was allowed to mention the partial erection against her backside. But then he slowly ground his hips against her, sending a flush up her neck and into her face. Brienne didn't say anything but also didn't pull away as Jaime took hold of her waist, leaning away just enough to get leverage.

Brienne's breath caught at the soft, contentedly filthy groan he made, then braced her against the counter so she wouldn't fall over. Her breath came faster as his hands slid over her hips, up and up to her stomach. Brienne bit her lip, feeling every place he touched like electricity thrummed through her skin.

Jaime rolled his hips against her, fully hard, now, his body hot and solid and so terribly promising. His hands moved over the loose folds of her sleep shirt to take a firm grip of her breasts, pulling her back against him even more, like any trace of air between them was an affront to the gods. He teased her nipples, lightly tracing them before rolling them between his fingers, making her gasp out loud, head ducking in pleasure and surprise.

He turned her around, fast, pinning her against the counter, his cock hard between her legs, and for a moment they just stared at each other. His breathing was heavy and his eyes were half-lidded, pupils blown wide and temptingly dark. Jaime's gaze traced her jaw, her mouth, and she could see how badly he wanted to kiss her, to run his teeth over her lip, to shove off her clothes and thrust in, to clutch her body to his and forget all the rest.

But his gaze flickered back up to hers, unsure.

"Okay?" he asked, voice rough and needy and afraid. "Is this…are you okay?"

Brienne drew in a shaky breath, biting her lip because she thought she might cry with how good he was, how much he was willing to try.

"Yes," she finally managed. "Yes, this is okay."

Jaime grabbed her hips like he wanted to lift her onto the edge of the sink, then seemed to think better of it, gaze flicking to the rest of the counter, then the living room.

Brienne laughed and led him back to the bedroom, skin thrilling at the brush of his hands and body and mouth.

He sat her down on the bed, quickly joining her, kissing her with a reckless, voracious need as he pulled the shirt over her head in one go. He kissed her mouth, her neck, her breastbone, her stomach, easing Brienne down onto the bed as he went. Jaime's mouth toyed along her hip, pulling off first the knit shorts she had worn to bed, then finally the boy shorts beneath.

He let out a soft moan when he saw her, wet and ready, resting his cheek against her thigh like he was too overwhelmed to continue.

"Don't, Jaime, please," she said, pressing her legs together, hands covering her face in embarrassment. Her skin was hot from the agonizing awareness of his breath skating between her legs, the want of him making her heart skip. Jaime kissed her thigh in chaste apology, then he licked her once, twice, then three times before he had her moaning.

Brienne didn't try to hide her pleasure this time, gasping as her back arched, as she grabbed his hair, as her hips rose to meet his mouth. She sat up, one hand braced behind her as the other snarled in his hair, pulling him close, caressing down his neck to his shoulder blades as he took hold of her hips, the small of her back, holding her to him until she climaxed.

Brienne fell back against the bed, panting as Jaime kissed up her stomach, teeth teasing along her ribs, mumbling sweet words against her skin. He settled on top of her, kissing her and making her mouth twist at the taste of herself. But he was everywhere, limbs stretching to cover hers, hands in her hair, hips rolling against her once more, a last second reminder before his underwear was off and he was inside her, each movement slow and perfect and divine. Brienne's toes curled into the blankets, her hands sliding down the muscles of his back to the dimples just before his bottom, and he gasped when she took hold of him, face against her neck, groaning her name over and over and over.

This was what making love meant. It was more than kisses or touches or sex, it was finding a person and showing them every possible way how much they meant, and even then it wasn't enough, even the ecstasy of being coupled together, one living, feeling being was not enough, but it was as close to perfection as a person could find.

He kept kissing her after he came, her jaw and her cheek and her ear and her hands when she tried to push him away and then finally her mouth when she laughed. Complicated, everything had been so complicated between them from the very first, but this was easy. It had taken lifetimes and tears and confusion and worry, but they were fixing things. They would be alright.

"Jaime," she whispered. They were propped against the headboard, now, pillows and blankets piled around them. He rested his head against her shoulder as he scanned his phone, leg tossed over hers, arm wrapped around her back, like he had never known a time before her body fit against his.

"Mm?" He kissed her neck in encouragement to continue, eyes still on the screen. She drew in a long, slow breath.

"I think I love you."

He looked at her, phone falling onto the blankets. "What?"

She felt herself blushing, but she didn't look away. "I said I—I think I love you."

"What, are you not sure?" he said, cracking half a smile, but his eyes were so green and so serious, so incredibly there that Brienne doubted there was any part of her that he did not see.

"Are you sure?" he asked softly, gaze flicking back and forth like he might catch the doubt in her face.

Brienne gave a slow nod. "Yeah, Jaime, I'm sure."

He kept staring at her, breathing not fast, precisely, but deep, like he was preparing himself for something that would change everything.

"I think I love you, too, and I think it's been for a long time."