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She hates the dress.

She hates a lot of things, actually. The too-sweet wine in her goblet that’s given her a headache after two sips. The distinctive smell of a royal court, pungent body odor masked by cloves and lavender and ambition. The way people smirk when they call Sansa “Your Grace,” as though she’s not a real queen, as though her thriving kingdom in the North is nothing compared to this half-rebuilt, blood-spattered citadel full of hypocrites and cowards.

But she really fucking hates the dress.

Supposedly it looks nice on her, or more specifically it looks “lovely.” Sansa had it made for her personally, a gift in anticipation of the stress and strain they’d both be facing on this visit down south. The Queen’s personal tailor had cut, sewn, and dyed the fabric a deep blue-grey, and then one of her maids, Talya, had done an exquisite job fitting it to Brienne’s unorthodox dimensions. It was nipped in slightly at the waist, suggesting a curve that wasn’t really there, and a clever ribbing in the bodice did similar things for her nonexistent cleavage. The skirt hung in the Northern style, spreading from her hips like the graceful sides of a mountain and outlining the full length of her legs when she took a real step. Even her swordbelt, which no one had ever even considered asking her not to wear, appeared more like an elegant girtle, Oathkeeper glinting from within the midnight-colored folds like a flashing moonbeam. When she’d emerged from her quarters that night, tugging nervously at the sleeves, the Queen and her coterie had oohed and aahed and Maester Clellan had smiled warmly through his grey beard and said, “So a true maiden lives beneath the armor,” and just a few minutes ago a tense and awkward King John (Aegon? Bride-Of-Tormund? Whatever) had kissed her hand and murmured, “You look truly lovely, Ser Brienne.”

Fuck lovely.

Brienne doesn’t want to look lovely. She doesn’t want to swish around in a long skirt or bare her collarbone, she doesn’t want to wear Oathkeeper like a gaudy accessory, she doesn’t want to be here and she certainly doesn’t want to do the fucking lady thing because it’s boring and uncomfortable and more than that it’s wrong, it’s not her, it was never her, being a lovely true maiden is utterly uninteresting and she hates this dress.

Brienne grinds her teeth and rocks back and forth on her heels, fighting the urge to lean her full weight back against the stone wall. All around her, the feast is in full swing, smoke from the roaring fires hovering in a thick canopy between the night sky overhead and the crush of human bodies beneath. She can easily pick out the Northerners in their dark colors and heavy cloaks, dotting the gossamer sea of color like rocks in the surf. Usually she’d be out in the middle of it herself, stuck to Queen Sansa’s side and taking great joy in glaring at whatever bootlick or smirking prick got too close.

But Sansa disappeared into an antechamber with her cousin, his Hand, and three members of the Small Council (none of whom were the one member whose whereabouts she would be most grateful to know) ten minutes ago, leaving strict instructions for Brienne not to hover, and technically that’s exactly what she’s doing now but since she’s in a corner about thirty feet away from the antechamber door and there’s a glass of wine in her hand she’s pretty sure it doesn’t count. High-ranking enough to be invited, not important enough to be able to escape—it’s her life in a nutshell.

Despite six months of steady repairs undertaken by hungry smallfolk eager to earn bread, the Red Keep still bears a number of ostentatious scars from the Battle of King’s Landing: rows of pillars interspersed with ragged stumps, caved-in walls and balconies, huge swaths of stone that remain soot-black and reeking of smoke no matter how many times they’re scrubbed. The Grand Hall—what used to be the Throne Room, when there was still an Iron Throne—is largely rebuilt, aside from there not being a ceiling anymore.

(As a Stormlands native, she’s horrified, but apparently King’s Landing doesn’t get enough rain to make it worth the labor.)

It’s clear why the Hall has received more attention than many other parts of the keep: the sooner it was made suitable for occupation, the sooner the royal court could reemerge from their hidey-holes and safehouses, the places they ran to when it became clear both Cersei and Daenerys were out for blood, the kind of safe havens the smallfolk never had. It was sickening, how quickly they’d come back with their jewels sewn into their clothes and their hands raised in praise of Aegon Targaryen, Killer of Killers, Son of the North and South, the King Who Took The Black. Brienne is staring at all of them now, courtiers in fine clothes laughing and gossiping over goblets of Dornish wine. It’s just like before, in King Joffrey’s court, the way they hardly ever saw her and, when they did, looked at her with a mixture of amusement and horror. Even the dress (or especially the dress) does nothing to make her feel like she should be here, in this grand refurbished hall where everyone wants to pretend that nothing ever happened.

It did happen, all of it. She can still taste the ash and blood, still smell the stench of the dead and hear the clank of their armor as they swarm her in her dreams. She can see, half-hidden on the edges of her mind, the faces of those for whom the Long Night never turned to dawn. She can feel the weight of the Northern furs on the bed, the way they shift and slide when he slips his leg between hers and the hairs on their skin catch and rub deliciously and his breath is in her ear and he whispers “Ser—”

There’s an old Stormlands saying: “turned heads bring thunderheads.” It’s meant as a caution to anxious sailors, who in dwelling on the threat of a single cloud in the sky seem to summon the very cataclysm they hoped would blow over. And though Brienne is not necessarily superstitious, she has no other explanation for why, after days of disciplined Not Thinking About Him At All No Matter What, that one brief moment of near-accidental reminiscence is followed by the sight of the cataclysm himself.

He appears from behind a migrating gaggle of courtiers, near a window whose panes are so newly glazed they seem to run like melting ice. Dressed in soft leather, sword at his side, no red or gold anywhere to be seen. Solid chest, shoulders strong, better-fed than when she last saw him. Hair shiny and clean, a little longer than she remembers, still shot with silver but lighter and blonder from the sun. Clean-shaven. At the end of his right arm is a two-pronged silver hook, and in his left hand is a goblet of wine. He stands in a circle of men and women, all of them beautiful, all of them speaking loudly to and over each other as they try to catch his eye or earn a laugh. He looks every inch the man born for a night like this, a place like this, a life like this.

 His eyes are locked on her, and to her joy and terror, they look exactly the same.

The first month was both the easiest and the most miserable.

She knew why he left, what he planned to do. He’d tried to put her off at first, but having never lied to her before he wasn’t very good at it. When he told her, it sounded like a question, but she had no answer. What could there be to say? They were both knights. They both understood honor.

She should never have let him move into her chambers, though. It was having him around in the flesh, his body heavy on the mattress beside her, his clothes carelessly flung onto furniture, two chairs left by the fire rather than one—it was all the having of him that was so hard to lose. Every other time they’d left each other, the intensity of—of whatever it was between them would stretch like a gooey toffee strand across the fields and forests, and no matter where they were, it was there with both of them. But once she knew what it was like to touch him, and sleep beside him, and dine with him, over and over, like it was normal, like it was how things maybe could be, once she knew all that and then it was taken away from her, that’s when she felt truly alone for the first time since…well, since the bear pit.

It took a month for the armies of the East and the North to make their way towards King’s Landing, and it was easy, because she knew where he was, and it was miserable, because she knew where he was going. His letters were surprisingly frequent, especially considering how agonizingly long it took him to write legible passages with his left hand. During the months they’d been together in Winterfell, he had done most of the talking, but so much of it was chatter and bravado and teasing and words like snow, falling for the sake of falling. She could count on one hand the times they had spoken aloud the things that, for them, mostly lived in looks and actions. Feelings, desires, needs, so unwieldy and frightening for both of them that the only safe ways to share them were swords and sex.

But the moment he left for King’s Landing, he began writing letters, and in them were words he’d never said out loud, never even hinted had been on his mind.

Big things, like I dream of you every night, and sometimes in the daylight, or You are all that keeps me on my feet at times, the only damn thing worth hobbling across this earth for, or Being loved by a creature like myself is a fate I’d wish on none, but you should know that it is yours, for ill or worse.

Small things, like I can’t sleep without your snoring in my ear or There’s another hole in my boot, I really don’t know how the smallfolk survive this kind of suffering, or All these bloody soldiers are too short for the hot sun, I miss my tow-headed shade.

And things that burned through the paper, wicked, perfect things like Close your eyes and feel it now, my tongue on you, relentless, no matter how you beg for mercy, driving you to madness while you break my fingers in that vicegrip of a cunt, or

I thought of you wearing my breeches and boots while you moved those massive heavy stones in the courtyard and I came harder than I ever have in my life, or

I want to fuck you. Right now. On a battlefield, with our swords at our hips and you holding me down in the mud, riding me like a war horse, the Warrior incarnate. I can’t think. I need you. I want you.

Brienne read those letters until they threatened to fall apart from the constant unfolding and re-folding, until she could (and, embarrassed but glowing, did) recite them to herself in the solitude of her bed. That first month, they came with almost every single raven that the armies sent back to Winterfell, and each one set her heart of fire.

But her pen—that was frozen still, hovering above the page, endlessly inert. She could not put what she felt, what he made her feel, onto the page; big, small, or the raging inferno that threatened to melt her armor around her, none of the things she wanted to say could fit through the tiny tip of the quill. They were too much. They were too frightening. They were too—manly.

Because his letters were lovers’ letters, the kind of letters men at war sent to the women they left behind, and there was a certain kind of—there was a manner, a pitch, that Brienne knew was expected in the response. She’d heard the way people talked during the wars, heard the same ballads and read the same histories as all the other highborn children, in which ladies and queens loved with such ardor that the Old Gods blessed their husbands to triumph and come home to them. Poetry, exclamations, oaths of forever…that was what women said to the men who wrote letters like his. That was what they said to bring their men home.

Brienne didn’t want him to come home. She wanted to go to where he was and do what he was doing, fight at his side, save his life with her sword. She didn’t want to greet her conquering hero with a tender caress of love, she wanted to fuck him in the armorer’s tent while there was still blood on their blades. She didn’t want to describe the dress she would wear to marry him and begin a new life blessed by victory, she wanted to yell at him and stomach his insults and hate him and wake up before him and see him looking at her, the way he did, the way only he did, every day, for the rest of her life.

But that’s not what women said in lovers’ letters. And so when Brienne wrote back, it was in halting, awkward phrases that blandly thanked him for his kind words and then delivered news of the Northern rebuilding and Lady Sansa’s policies and how Winterfell looked in the swell of spring. She refused to disappoint either of them by trying to write like something she wasn’t, and she was too weak and cowardly to write like what she truly was, and so her letters sounded like the person she was around everyone but him.

The second month was grueling in its fear and anxiety. Very little word came from the battleground, lest spies intercept it, and both Brienne and Lady Sansa went about their days with lockjaw and sick stomachs. One letter came, not from him but from Bronn, who had apparently joined up with their army somewhere in the Riverlands, informing her that “the horse-shit plan is still on” and “he’s not dead yet.” That letter she burned as soon as she read it, and then lay awake the whole night wondering if she’d burned the last piece of parchment to bear his name while he was still living.

The third month, it was all over. Cersei was dead, officially executed for her crimes, unofficially murdered by her husband in a bid to seize the throne and military command, and, to a very small number of informed individuals, literally stabbed in the back by her twin brother. Daenerys was dead as well, killed unceremoniously by an errant arrow in one of the bloody skirmishes that broke out between common folk, Northern soldiers, and the Eastern Armies after she and Drogon had burnt a quarter of the city to ashes. Tyrion and Varys had taken the ever-reluctant Jon Snow and shoved him into the limelight, keeping an enraged and bloody Westeros together with fast words and faster deals. The Essosi soldiers died, left, or faded into the populace. Sansa declared the North a sovereign nation. It was time to start picking up the pieces.

He wrote to her again.

There was very little in his letters about what he had done in the last two months, where he had been, who he had killed. They were mostly rambling complaints about bad food and tedious negotiations and how annoying Tyrion was being now that he apparently ruled the world (never mind that dour little King in Black), with short fragments of pain dropped in.

 I miss you.

I haven’t slept in three weeks.

Every time I hear her name, I feel like I cut off my other hand.

She wanted to perform miracles for him: to fly down to King’s Landing on wings as big as a dragon’s and scoop him up in her arms, rumple his hair, put her mouth on every part of him, tell him he was a whiny twat and that she loved him with a ferocity that could only come from the Seven. She wanted to tell him that it was all right, he was all right, and all the horrible things in the world were not enough to defeat knights like them. She wanted, at the very least, to write letters that would make him feel less alone.

But she couldn’t. She tried many times, but broken quills and burnt parchment were all she could manage. Whatever it was that had kept them tethered across the distances before was now locked up somewhere in the reality that once they had been together, really together, and now they weren’t, and she was self-conscious to the point of paralysis. There was always a presence looming over her, staring past her shoulder at the blank page, whispering You shouldn’t even try. Those aren’t your words. He wants what you don’t have.

You were never what he wanted at all, and soon he will remember that.

So she wrote back the same stilted mixture of news and half-hearted encouragements, the epistolary equivalent of an uncertain pat on the back. And soon enough, his letters began to sound the same way. At first, he appeared to be mocking her, borrowing some of her more awkward phrases and repeating them multiple times, taking an overly formal tone that reminded her of his snide pricking and poking on their walk through the Riverlands. But when she only responded with more of the same, he eventually began to write that way as well, removed and stiff, as though they were acquaintances forced to communicate about a mutual enterprise.

The letters became less frequent. Brienne pictured him in King’s Landing, Master of Defense (the replacement for Master of War on Jon Snow’s new Small Council), pretending not to care even as he threw himself into the work that he’d been kept away from his whole life. She imagined the wariness and intrigue he encountered, the way highborn and common folk alike looked at him as a strange evolution of the Kingslayer and the Lannister Lion, a handsome one-handed turncoat who also seemed to have emerged as a war hero. She thought of the women there, returning courtiers, healthy and beautifully dressed in clothes they’d worn on their extended holidays—women like Margaery, maybe, or Sansa, who were beautiful and smart but also kind to freaks like her, who could give him the tender sweetness and soft bosom that he needed in the aftermath of all he’d done and been through.

She pictured all of this and more, at night, when she lay in her bed at Winterfell and the memories of his skin and his voice were so sharp that they nearly drew blood. She pictured it to avoid picturing the way he’d looked at her the first night they’d ever slept together, like she was a miracle of some kind, like there was nothing about the person in front of him that wasn’t thrilling. Brienne knew, as she’d known the day he rode away from Winterfell, that their time together had been the kind of strange aberration that wars and nightmare produce, that should he survive what was to come he would remember the real world and how badly made she was for it, and for him. She knew that he would find a woman who could write lovers’ letters, whose womanly love would soothe and heal the damage his sister had done to him—and she knew that, for her, a liege like Sansa, who saw and loved her as she was, who celebrated her talents and gave her leave to do what she loved and was best at, was more than enough to ask from this world. Her place at the Queen’s side was enough belonging to satisfy her (it had to be).

Six months after he left, right about when she moved one of the chairs away from the fireplace, Brienne stopped writing back. He wrote one more time, and then nothing. That’s how she knew she had been right.

The last two months, Brienne lived in her armor everywhere but in bed, and there she slept curled in a ball, braced against all the things inside her, big and small and still burning bright, that would not forget what it had been like to have him.

This isn’t the first time.

They’d been in the same room, even made eye contact, once before on this state trip. Queen Sansa and her retinue were received in the Dragonpit, as was apparently the new custom, by the King, Tyrion, and the Small Council. Brienne hadn’t thought about him being there—in fact, she hadn’t thought about it so hard that a vein in her temple was bulging out from beneath the skin—but he had been, and his eyes had been on her from the start. She, in turn, had ducked her head in a show of respect and stuck as close to Sansa as she dared, only looking up when greeting the King and his Hand.

(Tyrion had winked at her and said something about wine and games, but she’d been too busy not thinking about his brother to really hear it.)

The eye contact was accidental, just a flash as she and Sansa were mounting their horses. She’d glanced up from her stirrup and seen him, tall as ever, staring at her over her horse’s saddle, and she’d flung herself up with such strength that her horse very nearly reared and killed them both. It was embarrassing, although not as embarrassing as the knowledge that she could have prepared herself for this inevitable meeting even a little bit, instead of brutally forcing it out of her mind and pretending this was just another matter of state.

Sansa had seen, of course, but being Sansa, she said nothing until earlier that evening, when she and Brienne were riding at the head of their procession to the Red Keep.

“Ser Jaime will be eager to see you tonight,” she’d said quietly, her smooth marble face betraying nothing but cool serenity as the common folk crowded around to gawk at the Northerners flowing like black water up the street.

“I—doubt it, Your Grace,” Brienne had mumbled back. She hated riding in dresses, it felt unbelievably cumbersome and awkward and she didn’t want to go to this stupid feast anyway.

“You haven’t spoken of him in a long time,” Sansa commented with the same quiet casualness.

“No, Your Grace.”

“I have wondered why, of course.”

“…yes, Your Grace.”

Neither of them said anything for a long moment after that. Then Sansa leaned over ever so slightly and said with lips that barely moved, “Do it.”

Brienne started. She looked fully at Sansa, who was already straight-backed in her saddle, looking forward, expressionless.

“Your Grace?”

Sansa didn’t answer, and Brienne rode the rest of the way to the Red Keep in stomach-cramping silence.

Jaime is coming towards her.

Brienne is feeling a strange combination of emotions right now. Part of her wants to run towards him, part of her wants to run away from him, part of her inexplicably wants to grab her sword and start swinging—and part of her is just pure want, a deep and terrible ache that doesn’t know what direction to move in or how to handle itself, so overwhelming that for a moment it seems to blot out even the pounding of her heartbeat in her ears.

But she only has a few seconds to experience all of this, because he cuts across the floor and brushes away a woman who tries to grab his arm and now he’s there, standing in front of her, head tilted the tiniest bit upward so he can meet her eyes.


Not a letter, not a memory, not a concept. Jaime Lannister, in front of her, looking at her like—like—

“Ser Brienne.”

It’s pretty clear from the amused edge to his voice that he’s saying this for a second or even a third time. Brienne swallows, fingers fisting in the idiotic piles of fabric someone called a skirt, and does a jerky half-curtsy that would make her old septa spin in the grave.

“Ser Jaime.” It’s somehow worse to stand before him in a dress, like she once did in Harrenhal, as the same stomach-turning parody of a highborn lady that she couldn’t bring herself to be in those pathetic letters, that she’d spent her life trying to escape. His lips twitch at her pathetic curtsy and the weird strain in her voice, and somehow the flicker of annoyance she automatically feels at his mocking grounds her. “It’s good to see you.”

“Is it now.” He raises one eyebrow, and she suddenly remembers what it feels like to want to punch him.

“Of course,” she says through gritted teeth. Jaime’s brow furrows, and the little smirk disappears, and there’s something brewing in the air between them, thunderheads and rolling whitecaps and a strong smell of lightning. People nearby are turning and whispering. Brienne would give anything for another dragon to attack the Red Keep right now.

“I’m surprised to find you here in a corner. Shouldn’t you be chained like a loyal puppy to the Dire-Queen?” he asks with manufactured ease. Against her will, Brienne’s shoulders hunch and she bares her teeth.

“I serve Queen Sansa in whatever manner she desires.”

“Of course,” he says, aping her tone from earlier. She knows this Jaime, knew this Jaime first and best—she can almost feel the coarse fibers of the rope in her hands, smell his unwashed stench as they traipse across fields and rivers. Back then he wanted his freedom, but now she has no idea what he wants from her. She let him go, gave him no trouble, raised no fuss at all—why is he here, in this grand room full of people that fit him like a glove, taunting her for sport?

“You don’t seem to be enjoying the feast, though,” he continues, eyes never leaving hers even as he waves his flesh hand at the lavish display of wealth and waste around them. “As one of the hosts, perhaps there’s something I can do to lift your spirits? A dance, or a song? I make quite the fool, though of course you need no convincing of that.”

“I don’t need anything from you, Ser.” The words crack their way out of her like a lightning bolt breaking free of a cloud, scorching the air. There are titters and hushed giggles around them.

Jaime’s eyes narrow, and he takes a step towards her. Brienne’s skin seems to vibrate.

“You’ve made that abundantly clear,” he says.

There are so many things she wants to say back, but it’s like the pen and paper all over again: none of them fit her mouth. And her response, now, is the same. She retreats, sliding along the wall and off into the crowd before he can stop her, heading Gods know where, just away, away from him, back to the North, maybe, where it’s easy to pretend—


Fuck. He’s following her. She can hear the murmurs around and behind her, the thudding of his boots on the fancy new tiles, ahead of her Bardo and Cleif are approaching with concerned looks on their faces and wariness in their black-clad stances, and she grabs her awful skirt in both hands and nearly runs, people dodging out of her way as she takes the longest steps she can towards the door in the far wall, where she can take cover and remember that she’s a fucking knight who doesn’t give a shit about the foolish things, where she can regain her hold on the cloak of cold certainty she’s wrapped herself in for months now.

Brienne is through the door with a bang, ignoring a flustered page, tripping over her stupid heeled shoes as she strides down the long corridor lit by torches. She doesn’t know the keep well enough to have any idea where she’s going, but it’s away from everything else, away from—

“Damn you!” he shouts as the door slams behind him, and Brienne’s stomach drops and she does start to run now, down the corridor into the depths of the castle, turning a corner, leaping up stairs two at a time, finding herself in a hallway that once was lined with windows looking out onto King’s Landing. Now there is only a massive hole in the castle’s outer shell, a floor-to-ceiling chunk blasted away, mid-repair, edges rough with mortar and the lights of the city far below, the blackness of the water on the horizon, the stars in the sky above, all of it spread out before her.

She slows only briefly—maybe taken aback by the view, maybe unnerved by how close she suddenly is to a sheer hundred-foot drop—but it’s just long enough for him to round the corner and shout her name again. Brienne looks back to see Jaime, cheeks red, forehead shiny, panting and glaring at her with familiar fire.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” he shouts at her, no mockery now, no teasing, just a question blunt with pure anger. “Since when do you bloody run away from anything?”

She’s angry too. Which is strange, because she has nothing to be angry about: he’s being a prick, of course, because he’s Jaime, but he’s done nothing wrong, he hasn’t spread stories about her, he hasn’t been cruel, he just did what he was always going to do, what she expected him to do, and moved on from them and whatever they were, and that’s been a relief all this time, it has, knowing it was over and she didn’t have to hold out any kind of hope that it wasn’t, she was just getting used to that and he hasn’t done anything really wrong so why is she angry?

She is though, and the anger is roaring in her ears along with the wind blowing in through the gap in the wall. “What I do is none of your concern,” she spits. “Go back to the hall, your guests will be missing you.”

“Fuck you.” He steps towards her, the two-pronged silver hook twitching at his side. He looks so strange, raw and armored at the same time, green eyes blazing. “You don’t think you owe me anything? Has the North already made you such a selfish hypocrite?”

She laughs at him then, a mirthless laugh like the scrape of fingernails, because he’s right, she is a hypocrite. As a knight she should possess the courage to accept it. But here she is, once again on the run.

“Yes,” she says. “Yes, I suppose it has.”

He scoffs and takes another step, bearing down on her. “At least have the decency to stand before me and say it,” he hisses, hooks twitching. “You couldn’t be bothered to send it by a fucking raven, so now you’ve got to waste a breath saying it to my face.”


He flinches, and something in her heart drops. She tries to get around him, make for the corridor and continue her escape, but he moves with her and now they’re so close she can smell the candle-smoke on his doublet and the sweat at his temple.

“I’m sorry.” There’s no more bite in her voice now, he’s broken through the blaze of irrational rage. She should never have let him into her chambers. No matter how wonderful it had felt, she should never have pretended to be the woman he’d forgotten she wasn’t. “I’m—I am so sorry. We leave for Winterfell in three days, and then there does not need to be…”

She trails off, unsure what to say. He stares back, mouth half-open, a thousand emotions warring on his face. She hasn’t been this close to him in—since the morning he left, in their bed, lying in heavy silence. The lines around his eyes, the sharp edges of his jaw and nose, a new scar like a tiny pink notch on his right cheek.

Jaime, real, here, solid. She knows what he feels like. It happened, she knows, it happened, and now here he is, in front of her, alive and so angry.

“So that’s truly what you want, then,” he breathes. She smells the sweetness of Dornish wine on his breath. “To forget.”

She does, yes, she wants to forget so that it doesn’t hurt to remember. She wants to forget that she ever put herself in a position like this, that she made mistakes she had spent her whole life learning to avoid. She wants to forget that being with him felt so unbelievably fucking right, and yet she did it so wrong.

Brienne nods.

They stand there, raw and exposed before the city and the sea and the sky, and then she tries one more time to step away and leave him behind, but before she can get more than a couple feet Jaime reaches out and grabs her wrist and the heat of his grip and his gaze is suddenly burning her to the bone.

“I don’t believe you.”

In retrospect, Brienne will have no memory of making a choice, just as one doesn’t make a choice to blink or breathe. In that moment, the only logical response, the only possible response—

Is to tackle him.

This is what she does with problems that her sword can’t solve, whether it’s a melee with Loras Tyrell or a fight for survival with the Hound or the man she loves forcing her to face him. Brienne barrels into him, already grappling, using her weight to knock him off his feet. Jaime curses at the impact but he’s started fighting before they even hit the ground, and then there they are, on the cold dirty stone floor of the corridor, grunting and wrestling like a pair of village youths.

“Are you mad?!” he chokes as he manages to twist out of her bear hug. He’s strong, stronger than in Winterfell, and Brienne grunts and shrieks and makes just as much noise as she always does in a fight, trying to break his grip, throwing herself up and over so they roll across the stones. Her skirt is fucking everywhere, tangling around her legs, hampering her, and Oathkeeper clatters against the floor and whacks bruises into them both. His eyes are wild like a wounded animal’s.

Somewhere in the tiny part of her brain that isn’t entirely occupied with fighting to pin him down, a voice whispers what the fuck is this.

Brienne doesn’t know. She doesn’t care. It happened, and it’s still happening, and it’s the most alive she’s felt in months. Jaime’s body is so solid, so there, and her muscles burn from the strain, and there are no words here, nothing but flesh and power and them.

And then his boot comes down on her skirt, pinning her legs, and he hauls her over and her head bounces off the stone floor and he presses his right arm against her throat, the silver hook inches from her eye.

“Yield, ser,” he breathes, chest heaving. He’s straddling her, arm at her neck and left hand pinning her right wrist to the ground, and she has one wild breathless second to see the tears running down his cheeks and hear the crack in his voice before he leans down and kisses her with the same force he just used to defeat her in a wrestling bout.

Brienne can’t respond fast enough, hard enough—all her muscles and mass aren’t anywhere near what she needs to envelope Jaime the way she wants to. She tries though, wrapping her arms around him and squeezing so hard he gasps for air against her mouth. She doesn’t let him breathe, doesn’t give him a chance to do anything but kiss her again and again, and he rises to the challenge, just as he did when she threw him to the floor, tongue and teeth and hot desperate lips devouring her in a rush of, Gods, of everything, of all of it, she wants all of him.

Legs locked and arms in a death grip, they start to rock together, the storm finally breaking and sending waves crashing through them. There are no thoughts in Brienne’s head, nothing approaching coherency, just a kind of endless moan, pure need coated with love and lust and grief and joy, and every push of Jaime’s hips against hers makes it grow louder. They move like one body, they rut on the ground like beasts, harsh breaths and wet grunts loud in each other’s mouths, sweat pouring down their faces and necks.

Her hand slides up and grabs a handful of his hair, yanking tight, the way he used to beg for, the way that made him writhe in Winterfell. Jaime shudders violently in her arms and digs his fingers into her ass, so strong and so fragile all at once. She can feel him, blunted by the mass of the skirt trapped between them but still unmistakably, brutally hard. There’s a maddening pressure between her legs that is not enough even as it breaks her mind apart, even as he relentlessly drives his whole weight against her and she feels—she feels—oh

Without thinking, almost without meaning to, Brienne rolls the two of them over so that she’s on top, one of his thighs trapped between both of hers, their kiss unbroken. She wrenches her hand out of his hair and grabs his other thigh, pulls it upwards, uses it as leverage as she grinds against him, a creature possessed, wanting only to be closer, closer, Jaime, hers, her Jaime, with him, Jaime, now, now.

Beneath her, Jaime rips his mouth away and throws his head back, arching up, eyes squeezing shut as he gasps. Brienne bites the side of his neck, sucks at the sweaty skin, moving even faster when he whimpers and bucks against her. Oathkeeper’s hilt is digging into her ribs, and she feels something hard and thin on her back, the two-pronged hook, one of its Y-prongs poking into her shoulder; it doesn’t hurt, but it triggers a memory, the cold solidity of his awful golden hand the first few nights they went to bed together, and a swell of something rises up in Brienne, Gods she fucking loves him, it doesn’t matter that it’s been eight months of proof that she shouldn’t, and her eyes are wet with more than sweat and the dam inside her finally buckles under the pressure—

She shouts as she comes, helplessly pounding her hips against Jaime’s thigh. Beneath her, Jaime seizes up and makes a strangled noise like he’s dying and she can feel him jerking violently, coming in his trousers, arms squeezing her with incredible strength even as something rips and Brienne feels cool air at her back.

There is no voice in her head. There are no things piled up unsaid inside her. There’s only Jaime, and he’s here.

The comedown is so intense it’s almost nauseating. Both of their bodies shake and quiver with overworked muscles and draining adrenaline. Brienne buries her face in his neck and tries in vain to steady her breathing, faintly alarmed at how weak and shaky her limbs suddenly feel. Her head is spinning in the warm Jaime-smelling darkness. The floor is grainy and hard under her knees.


His voice is hoarse, the syllables mushy. When Brienne reluctantly pulls back to look him in the eye, he’s got the unfocused gaze of a man recovering from a blow to the skull.


“The dress.”

With some apparent difficulty, Jaime loosens his embrace and lowers his right arm; hanging from the two-pronged hook at his wrist are a long strip of blue fabric and a piece of corset lacing, torn off the back of her dress.

“Oh,” she says, and then has nothing else to add. He shifts beneath her, and she starts to sit back on her knees—

Only to realize that they’re mere inches from the lip of the hole in the wall, and a small slip would be very likely to send them both tumbling to their deaths.

“Jaime, be careful, it’s—”

“Why didn’t you answer me?”

He sounds marginally less wrecked now, like his brain is putting itself back together after what all apparent evidence indicates was a pretty earth-shattering orgasm. Brienne’s not nearly so recovered yet—her cunt is still clenching with aftershocks, her mind is trying to remember anything other than how to speak and that it’s bad to fall off the sides of keeps—but even if she were, she wouldn’t know what to say.

“I did.” They both know it’s not true. She wrote letters, but they might as well have been from a stranger.

“Why, Brienne?” he asks, softer. A gust of wind blows cold across Brienne’s bare back, and she shivers. There is something about being perched here beside a deadly drop, the endless sky open overhead, Jaime’s warm body under her hands and his voice in her ears, that feels somehow untethered and dreamlike. She opens her mouth, wondering what words will come out.

And then they hear voices.

Jaime locks the door behind them, and Brienne realizes she can’t look at him.

She watched him from behind as he pulled her through the maze of hallways and corridors, watched the light of the torches glaze his skin a perfect Lannister gold, watched him sail past a pair of surprised guards who pretended not to notice the way she was clutching her dress together at the back.

But now they’re here, in his private chambers, and she can’t look at him. She looks instead at the apartments, which are strangely bare, austere even, like a maester’s room; but they’re big too, spacious, meant for a high-ranking nobleman. It doesn’t appear Jaime has spent much time here, or that he’s bothered to acquire any personal effects beyond clothing and weaponry. What is here—a large bed, a wardrobe, chairs by the fireplace, a burnished mirror on the wall—is neat, and plain, and utterly unconcerned with show.

When they lived together at Winterfell, her quarters were small and cramped, and he left his shit everywhere, and he complained about the rude wooden furniture. This place doesn’t look like anyone lives here, let alone Jaime Lannister.

“Do you mind if I…”

She has to look at him then, even though it’s physically difficult, even though she’d rather tackle him again rather than meet those sharp green eyes. He’s standing by the wardrobe door, the two-pronged hook half-unbuckled, and as she looks at him he shifts his weight and grimaces.

Right. Of course.

“Yes, I—yes,” she mumbles, and lowers her head to give him privacy.

But she looks up again a second later, because the urge to do is even stronger than the urge not to was a moment ago. Jaime has his back turned to her as he finishes taking off his new hook; when he’s done he sets it on a little shelf built into the inside of the wardrobe’s door, and she remembers the first time he took his golden hand off in front of her, the jolt of trust and intimacy that ran through her.

She’s back to watching him, how he unlaces his trousers one-handed, a mundane movement so familiar it takes her breath away, and how he shimmies them down his legs. His smallclothes come off immediately after—she can almost hear the look on his face as he peels them away from his skin—and she watches him clean himself off with a piece of linen wetted in a nearby washbasin. She even catches a glimpse of the ass that taught her it was possible to have sex dreams about an ass, before he pulls his trousers back up and ties his funny one-handed knot in the laces.

When he turns around, she can tell from his expression that he knew she’d been staring. But it’s the way that infuriating smirk almost immediately disappears, like a candle being blown out, and the heavy, deadened expression that replaces it—it’s that change, and how much she hates that looking at her made it happen, that prompt her to speak.

“I didn’t know what to say.”

His brow furrows, and she realizes maybe it’s only her who’s been hearing Why didn’t you answer me? in a constant echo for the last ten minutes. “Your letters, I…I tried. To answer them. But I didn’t—”

“Horseshit,” he interrupts bluntly. “Other people might still believe the stubborn-silent-plank act, but I’ve known better for quite some time.”

“I—it’s not an act!” There she goes again, so easily wound up by him. Gods, it would be funny if it weren’t so predictable.

“You always know exactly what you want to say. It’s just your choice to stay silent. A choice I admired, once, before I received a string of the most absurd and pathetic excuses for letters I’ve ever had the misfortune to read.”

“What could I possibly write in a letter that wouldn’t sound absurd coming from this!”

Brienne lets go of the back of her dress to gesture at herself, at all the too-much-too-big-not-woman-enough-ness. The garment sags on her, Oathkeeper’s weight at her belt dragging one shoulder down her arm, and she scrambles to gather the fabric back up—but Jaime, already shouting back, doesn’t seem to have noticed a thing.

“Coming from what? From the woman I was writing to in the first place? No, what’s absurd is you, Ser Brienne of Tarth, acting like any other small-minded idiot who calls pity and contempt a kindness!”

She’s almost too confused to be angry. What in seven hells is he talking about?

“Well fuck kindness!” he continues, hand and stump slashing at the air. “Fuck pity and contempt, for that matter, though of anyone’s it’s yours I most deserve—it’s dishonesty that is beneath you, ser, dishonesty and cowardice.”

“How dare you!” She’s still confused but the anger is definitely there now, fury pulsing in her blood. “I am a knight of the Seven Kingdoms—”

“Which is why I cannot understand you!” Jaime actually stamps his foot in frustration, like an enraged toddler. “For Gods’ sakes, Brienne, what we just did on the floor of a dirty hallway was more honest and true than any word I’ve had from you since I left Winterfell!”

“It is not dishonest to spare us both purposeless humiliation,” she spits. “It is not false to accept responsibility, to accept reality.”

He laughs, an echo of her own cold, miserable laughter from earlier. “What reality, ser? That I am hateful, sinful, utterly tainted? That it would have been better for the Dragon Queen to bury me under the Red Keep? That I fucking love you?”

His words puncture her rage and indignation like a well-placed thrust from a blade.

On the page, crooked letters smudged with ink, they made her feel a fool: she, Brienne the Beauty, receiving love meant for a real woman, it must be a mistake, he would regret it later if not now, she didn’t know what to do.

But out loud—from a man in front of her, looking at her, looking at her—the words stun her. They stun her with how badly she wants them, and they stun her with a deep ache of uncertainty and fear, because she used to know better than to want something like this at all. She used to know who and what she is, until she met Jaime.

“I love you,” he says again, sounding almost weary now, anger cooled in the face of her shocked silence. “And you of all people should know that I understand what an undesirable prospect that is to face.”

She’s shaking her head, trying to clear it, because what he’s saying makes no sense—in what world is she the one in an undesirable situation?

“I know what I’ve done, Brienne.” He’s moving towards her, a painfully earnest look on his face. “I would not want to be loved by a man like me either. But even if you burned every letter I wrote, you will hear it now, and we will both live with it, as best we can.”

“I didn’t burn your letters,” Brienne whispers—not because she wants to but because her throat is so tight she can’t speak any louder. Jaime’s eyes soften as he approaches, and he reaches out to take her hand, but she pulls away. “I—Jaime, it’s—you don’t understand—”

“I do—

Roses Stemmed in Blood.”

She doesn’t blame him for looking confused: if he’d randomly started quoting the titles of classical chivalric ballads, she’d wonder if he’d lost his mind. “From the Targaryen epics, the lovers Raevys and Gaelon and the uprising in Lys. Half the poem is their letters to each other while he was at the battlefront and she was serving as regent. I had to read the whole thing when I was younger.”

He nods slowly, as though humoring a very dull child. Brienne hates him for it, but mostly she hates herself for being so dim-witted and thick-tongued and helpless. She thinks of Cersei’s slippery serpent’s tongue, Margaery’s lilting cleverness, Sansa’s calm, deliberate brilliance.

“She and him—the way they—I can’t do it,” she fumbles out. “I can’t write like that, I can’t be like that.”

“Neither can I—"

 And when you left—”

“I told you why I—”

“When you left,” she barrels over him, “and it was only letters—you are like that, Jaime. No matter what you or anyone else may think, you have honor, and decency, and you are a good man, the Lion of Lannister and a knight, just like Gaelon, writing to a woman as he rides to war, and I’m not—I’m not—”

“A woman?”

It would be better if he said it mockingly, the way he used to on the banks of the Green Fork. But there’s no smirk or jeer in his tone, only gentleness and honesty, and it wrecks her.

When he reaches for her hand this time, she doesn’t have the strength to pull away.

“A lady,” she manages, finally, hating the way her voice trembles. “I—I love you—but I’m not a lady.”

“I wasn’t under the impression you ever wanted to be,” he says, again without mockery, like all those weeks of herding him along the river belonged to another lifetime. His only reaction to her other declaration is a quick squeeze around her fingers.

“No, but…” She has to stop and sniffle. This is utterly humiliating.

Jaime’s calloused fingertips are warm where they press against her own. He steps closer, treading on the awful dress, close enough that his lips almost brush her cheek when he speaks.

“Then why would you be under the impression that I wanted you to be a lady?”

She could try and explain. She could sit him down, right here and now, and recite Roses Stemmed in Blood in its entirety, and then she could describe every single day of her childhood and how much of it was just being told no, you’re doing it wrong, this is what a lady does, this is how a lady moves, this is what a lady looks like, Raevys is a lady and the Queen Elia is a lady and your dead mother was a lady but you can’t do any of it, you can never be like them, and so you are only a creature of pure Wrongness. She could tell him about how she’d wondered for a long time if she was meant to be a boy, if maybe the Gods were distracted and had simply put her in the wrong flesh, but how in the end she’d had to admit to herself that she wasn’t a boy in a girl’s body, she was a girl in a girl’s body that nobody liked and everybody wanted to be in charge of, and knowing that she could truly be a girl and also truly hate the life a girl was supposed to live made her feel so unbelievably lonely and helpless, like there was no point to breathing if it would just keep her alive for decades of Wrongness—but how the second she’d picked up a sword and used it to run a fox out of the dog kennels she’d discovered that there were things in this world that felt right to her, not wrong, and from that day on she’d endured an infinite parade of derision and hatred and blame and rage and pity and amusement and cruelty, all from people who wanted her to be a lady and felt personally attacked by her decision not to be, and it had always been worth it because she knew who she was and what she was put on the earth do and fuck the rest of it, and that when she’d met him, this slimy Lannister brat who called her names and told her his deepest secrets, she had expected nothing but the same, but then over time he began to react to her with something new, something she’d never seen before—

She could try and explain how impossible it was for her to believe in it, after a life like hers, how every single experience she’d ever had had taught her to expect jokes and diminishment, never admiration, never attraction, and it had made her brutally tough, to the point where she herself couldn’t get through her own armor.

She could try and make him, the Golden Lion, lifelong illicit lover of the most beautiful woman—lady—in Westeros, feel even a fraction of the dread and bitterness she lived with, the acid sting she felt watching Cersei and him lock eyes or seeing women at court brush his arm, the familiar drumbeat of wrong, wrong, she’s the right and you’re the wrong.

She could try and find the words to express what seeing him jump into that bear pit had done to her, to the way she saw the world, how it had knocked her off-kilter so badly that she’d been flailing for years since, and how after he came to her chambers in Winterfell it still took a week for her to stop expecting that Tyrion or Tormund or the entire Unsullied army would suddenly jump up and start laughing because it had all been a bet, a jest, an amusement in dark times, Jaime Lannister fucking the cow-woman.

And she could try and explain that when he was touching her, or holding her, or even looking at her, all of it—her life, the world she’d lived it in, the scars she’d collected throughout it—went silent and still, and that when he had left, the sudden roar as it flooded back had drowned out everything about him—and the way he saw her—that she’d been able to accept and believe in its absence.

There are so many things Brienne could say, so many truths she could try and string together to answer his question. But instead, she replies with a question of her own.

“What else could you ever want me to be?”

Jaime blinks, pauses, opens his mouth, closes it again.

It’s warm in these rooms, the balmy spring air outside turning stuffy behind closed windows. Not so different, actually, from how she keeps her rooms at Winterfell. Brienne suddenly, desperately longs to be home—not here, not Winterfell, not even her father’s keep on Tarth, but a place where she can rest and let her guard down and, just for a moment, not be a disappointment. Such a place has only existed for her in the presence of one person, and it seems she may have destroyed that now too.

Then his hand is at her throat.

Before she can even form a thought, her reflexes kick in and she catches him by the wrist.

“What are you doing?”

He looks her dead in the eye, and for the first time in what feels like eternity, he’s smirking in that way only Jaime can—the way that makes her feel like she’s in on the joke, not the butt of it.

“I’m taking your dress off.”

This time, she lets him do it himself.

As soon as she releases his wrist, Jaime starts gently pulling at the neckline of the dress, dragging it down her chest. She lets go of the back, where she’s been holding together the ripped evidence of Jaime’s hook, and when she does it only take another small tug and a quick pull at the buckle of her swordbelt for the whole thing to fall to the ground.

It’s no different than any other time she’s been naked in front of Jaime: the knee-jerk terror and desire to hide is mingled with a strange surge of something, a powerful feeling that she can’t quite name but, like water from a well, seems to be drawn directly from the wonder in his eyes. His fingers brush against her side, then with a flick of his wrist he slides her smallclothes down too, removing them with the ease of clearing cobwebs.

It occurs to her, like a memory from another life, that less than an hour ago they were riding each other like tourney horses on the hallway floor. What she’d felt that had been raw and explosive and desperate, an outpouring of everything that had been stamped down since he left Winterfell. What she feels now is delicate, cautious, thrilling—like the first steps in a duel.

Without taking his eyes off her, Jaime reaches for his own collar; before she knows it, he’s yanked his doublet off, doing the same to his shirt and undershirt moments later. He throws the clothing carelessly to the ground (yes, that’s more like the Jaime she knows) and goes for his laces next. Within seconds, she is reminded that he didn’t replace his soiled small clothes with new ones.

In the space of about a minute, they’ve both gone from fully clothed to naked, standing in puddles of fabric and leather and staring at each other. Instead of feeling vulnerable, Brienne is surprised to realize that, for the first time all night, she doesn’t want to run or hide. This is what she had forgotten when he went away, this is the inexplicable charge that has somehow always overrun her lifetime of protective doubts. After the exhausting back-and-forth, the arguing, the fear that she truly had been right all along, this—her and Jaime, exposed, just as they’ve always somehow been with each other—is finally making sense.

Or it’s making sense until Jaime reaches down, yanks at the skirt of the dress until she stumbles out of it, and then immediately starts trying to put it on.

“What—what are you doing?” Brienne chokes out. Jaime doesn’t answer at first, probably because he’s focused on pulling the skirt and petticoats over his head by the hem. He is decidedly unsuccessful.

“What does it look like I’m doing? Fuck, this thing is like a tent, how do you—”

“You’re being ridiculous! That’s not—you can’t—that’s a dress for a lady!

Jaime, who has finally managed to get his head under the skirts and through the waist, winks at her.

“If you say so. Give me a hand?”

He waves his stump at her, and before she can stop herself she lets out an incredulous snort. Jaime tries to tug the dress down, but with one hand it keeps getting caught on his shoulders, and eventually Brienne’s compassion overrides her confusion long enough for her to help him get his arms through the sleeves.

“Right,” he says, apparently satisfied. “Now you.”

“Now me what?”

“Brienne.” He cocks his head at her and gestures with his good hand at the pile of breeches and shirtwear on the ground. “Come along, be a good knight and put on my clothes.”

“I—you—” she splutters. He just smirks at her, insufferable Jaime Lannister, who can be wearing a torn dress and have one hand and still somehow know everything. “I’m not going to put on your clothes.”

“Why not? I’ve put on yours.”

He twirls in the dress, and Brienne opens her mouth to tell him to stop acting like a fool—

But when he finishes the twirl and faces her again, she can’t get the words out.

She’s too busy looking at him, and at the dress, and at him in the dress. The deep blue is a much stronger contrast to his golden skin than the Lannister colors, or even his usual pale leathers; it makes all his angles and edges stand out, like a torch throwing a statue into sharp relief. Their near-identical heights means that the dress falls perfectly on his slim hips, that stupid tailoring meant to hide her thick waist actually giving him an elegant curve. He’s broader across the shoulders than her, but because of the rip in the back, the dress sits comfortably on his torso, the neckline running just low enough to reveal a dusting of chest hair. The skirt, the horrible bulky endless skirt, settles around him like it was painted there by an artist.

“I used to wear her dresses when I was younger,” he says quietly, watching her take him in. “Never outside, never where Father could see…but when we would dress up like each other, I would go to the mirror and enjoy how it felt to be something different. Something I could never be when I was simply myself.”

Brienne swallows.

“It’s all right, you know.” He cocks his head at her, smiles slightly. “Not that anyone should look at me and deem any of my past choices intelligent. But there’s nothing wrong with this. It’s not hurting anyone. People are always afraid of good things that are different.”

This is—she’s worn men’s clothes her whole life, and she’s no rube, she’s been to red districts, it’s not like she didn’t know men could—but what Jaime is saying, the way he’s moving in that dress she hates so much—and yet he’s Jaime, a soldier, a commander, lord and knight and the only one who’s ever wanted her the way a woman is wanted by a man.

It’s the same kind of confusion and discomfort that stopped her from replying to his letters, that sent her running back towards the familiarity of loneliness. It’s frightening, almost, and utterly contradictory. It’s—there’s no other word for it—wrong.

She wants more of it.

It doesn’t take long to put on his clothes: again, they’re mostly the same size, and back in Winterfell she got into the secretly thrilling habit of wearing his simple breeches and tunics interchangeably with her own. But she’s never stood like this, wearing Jaime’s fine trousers and shirt and doublet, across from a man—from Jaime, who is done up in her own fine gown.

They stare at each other, taking in the sight, taking in the feeling. Somewhere out in the Red Keep, Sansa may be wondering where she is, Tyrion may be missing Jaime—or perhaps they’ve completed stepped out of reality, into their own strange mirage, and nobody will ever come to call them back.

(This is probably not what Sansa meant when she told Brienne to “do it,” but Brienne will apply the advice all the same.)

“You see?” Jaime says, spreading his arms wide. “If you don’t want to be a lady, then let me.”

She snorts, then giggles, feeling weirdly giddy. None of this makes sense, it’s probably going to turn out to be a very strange dream, so she might as well enjoy it. “You’re missing the jewels. And the rouge.”

“Fuck the jewels and the rouge.” He twirls again, lifting the skirt with his good hand. “Men don’t care about any of that. It’s these skirts we like, the way they swish around—it certainly feels nicer than those wool breeches in the North.”

Jaime whisks his skirt around again, then looks back to her. He gestures for her to spin, and after a moment, she does—awkwardly, too fast, lacking even a whit of his natural grace.

“That suit was a gift, from some lord or another in the Reach. The best leatherworkers in the region, they say.” He takes a step towards her, a familiar hunger in his eyes. “I can’t count how many times I’ve imagined you in clothes like this. None of those cheap peasant rags you always wear—”

“My clothes are fine!”

“Your clothes are fit for swineherds and innkeepers. I suppose Sansa doesn’t mind, given the Northern standards.”

Queen Sansa, you insufferable snob.” Brienne bends her knees, rubs the fine leather of the doublet between her fingers. These may be simpler than his Lannister colors, but this suit really is the nicest of its kind she’s seen, far nicer than any of the clothes she wears on a daily basis. It’s snug and sleek and well-cut, and if she had her sword—

As soon as the thought strikes, Brienne suddenly can’t wait to get Oathkeeper on her hip. She buckles the belt back on and looks up to ask Jaime what he thinks—only to find him already staring at her, his thoughts written all over his face.

“Brienne,” he breathes, and her heart throbs in her chest.

Slowly, dreamily, he reaches out, takes her hand, leads her over to the mirror on his wall. He turns her head with gentle fingers to face the reflection.

“Look at you.”

The two figures staring back at her from the mirror are both alien and familiar. A well-dressed lord, broad and tall, the clear cut of a warrior in his stance and in the heft of the golden sword at his side—and a lady beside him, equally tall but graceful and soft along her edges, skirt folded daintily against her side, eyes glowing with devotion.

It’s them. But it’s not them. It’s her. But it’s not her.

“This is what I want, Brienne.” Jaime’s voice is so soft, right beside her ear, skirt rustling as he draws closer. “This is who I wrote to when I left Winterfell.”

He kisses her neck, closer to worship than lust. His skirt brushes against her hand. She’s never felt less like a lady and more like a woman.

“Gods, Brienne,” he whispers against her skin. “I’ve missed you so much.”

“Jaime…” It’s so hard to breathe with her heart bursting out of her chest. The man in the mirror is shaking, his lips trembling, his whole body starting to fold into the touch of the woman next to him. “Jaime, I’m so sorry.”

“It’s all right.”

“I was afraid, I failed you, I’m sorry—"

“Don’t apologize to me, Ser Brienne,” he replies, smiling. “It ill becomes a man of honor.”

She turns away from the mirror, then, looks at him, looks at Jaime: devastatingly handsome, heir to a legendary family, Kingslayer, sister-fucker, villain and war-hero both, city-savior, her companion, her opponent, her lover. Wearing her dress. Wanting her now, like this, as she really is. Being Jaime, her Jaime, and nobody else.

It’s terrifying to love someone as she loves him in this moment. She’s run headlong into battle, ripped men’s flesh with her bare hands, nearly drowned beneath the armies of the dead, but this feeling, this sense of absolute trust, of knowing someone better than they know themselves and then realizing they know you the same way—if anything will break her, this will. She loves Jaime beyond what can be contained by armor, and without armor…

Without armor, she’s still Brienne. And that’s what he wants.

“I’m not a man,” she says, and before Jaime can answer she leans in and kisses him, pulls him to her by the waist, loses his little sigh in the rustling of his dress.

She’s no longer self-conscious about her size and strength. Before, she was always half-afraid of repulsing him with how strong she was, perhaps reminding him that she was not as dainty and fragile as the other woman he’d spent his life making love to. But now—maybe it’s everything they’ve said, maybe it’s the sight in the mirror, maybe it’s just the feel of the expensive leather on her skin, but Brienne is strong and doesn’t fucking want to act like she’s not.

So she carries him to the bed.

After tonight, after everything, she doesn’t expect him to object. But she also doesn’t expect him to—well, to melt into her arms like he does. All she does is wrap her arms more firmly around his waist and hoist him up, but the moment his feet leave the ground, Jaime seems to go half-boneless, gasping into her neck as he drapes his full weight across her shoulders. The skirt of the dress swirls around her legs as she walks towards that plain, unadorned bed, and when she lowers (or maybe kind of accidentally drops) him onto the sheets, it spreads across the mattress like a spilled glass of midnight.

Jaime grins up at her with a radiant, boyish energy that makes her cheeks redden. He pretends to adjust his bodice from the slightly rough landing.

“It’s certainly not my smoothest dismount, but then my horses are usually better trained.”

Before, she would blush or grimace when he teased her, even after they’d been sleeping together for weeks. She didn’t have his gift for clever barbs and quips, and she didn’t want to be churlish, so she’d just kind of done what she’d always done and absorbed the Jaime-ness of it all in silence.

But tonight, it’s been made clear that she should do what she wants to do, what only Brienne would do. So instead of replying or looking away, she responds by moving in one swift motion from standing by the bed to straddling Jaime and pinning his wrists so far above his head she hears his shoulder joint crack.

From the way Jaime’s mouth falls open and his eyes go dark, this is the right response.

When she kisses him again, it’s nothing like before. And it’s nothing like their time in Winterfell either. It’s like the first time, and yet somehow it’s the most familiar thing in the world. Everything seems so obvious and natural, like how her long limbs make it possible for her to kiss him while keeping his wrists in place, or how the fine tailoring of the suit allows her to feel every little place where his body moves and presses against hers. Jaime moans into her mouth as he arches up a little, straining against her hold on him, and Brienne cups his jaw with her free hand and loses herself into the fervent heat of his mouth and the soft shhh-ing of his skirt under her knees.

What begins as fascinated and eager exploration swiftly becomes a searing rush of passion, all the heat and desire of their earlier floor escapades with none of the mindless urgency. Fingers buried in hair, mouths fastened to skin, everything coated in a new sheen of sweat—each passing second reveals to Brienne a new part of Jaime that she will die if she doesn’t touch and touch and touch. Gods, he feels so good, the thickness of his arms and the beautiful soft expanse of his shoulders, the quiet rumble in his throat when she slots her leg between his thighs. Before long, she’s dragged the top of the dress down to his stomach so she can suck bruises across his chest, and he repays her shortly after by rolling them over so he can rip open the leather doublet and bite at her nipple through the linen undershirt. They give and take, rolling from top to bottom and back in turns as the heat between them becomes ever more unbearable.

Lying on her back, Brienne stares hazily at the ceiling while Jaime licks his way across her lower stomach. Every inch of her skin is tingling, every muscle is jumping, tensing, releasing—she needs more, she’s not sure of what but she knows she can’t stand to go without. Jaime nips at the flesh directly below her belly button and it makes her whimper, makes her hips rise up without her consent, and when he looks up at her there’s no little smirk of triumph, no competitive gleam, there’s just droplets of sweat sliding down his face past a pair of half-crazed eyes and swollen lips.

“Brienne,” he growls, and her hips buck again at the very sound. He takes it as a directive, yanking brutally at the laces on her trousers until they come undone. Impatient as he is, he gets them down just past the knee before diving under her legs like a seabird and surfacing again in the gap between her thighs, where he wastes no time plunging facefirst into her aching cunt.

Gods, she didn’t realize her memories of this were so faded and limp, so unlike the maddening, sparkling torture of his tongue laving at her. He sucks at her clit and flicks his tongue over it with brutal speed. Brienne cries out and grabs at his hair and feels such a woman, such a creature of her own flesh and the unbelievable pleasure of which it is capable.

Oh—Jaime, yes—oh Gods—don’t stop—” She’s never spoken like this in bed before, never let her mindless want flow out through her tongue, but tonight there’s nothing she can’t do, nothing beyond her, and when Jaime hears what she says he hums and redoubles his efforts, sending bolts of pleasure and heat shooting through her body.

“Ah—oh—I want you, Jaime, please, do it,” Brienne begs, no, demands, and he hears the difference in her tone. Suddenly his tongue is gone, his head is gone, and she helps him remove her trousers by violently kicking at them, and a moment later Jaime is hauling that stupid fucking skirt out of the way and—

Oh Gods, yes.

It’s so much, him seated in her up to the hilt, she feels so absolutely complete with him like this. He begins to thrust, hard and fast, no build up, just the way she likes it—the way only he knows she likes it—and Brienne is breathing so hard she thinks she may pass out, her body on fire, everything building and building and tightening under her skin, she moans and claws his back and reaches her other hand down between them to roughly stroke herself right above where he’s pounding into—

Her first orgasm that night hit her like a club to the head; this is more like plunging over a waterfall, spiraling in free-fall and then being sucked down into the vortex below, all gravity and sense of equilibrium gone, lost blissfully to the void.

When she finally surfaces, Jaime is hovering over her, gazing down with an emotion so intense she has to close her eyes again. He gently slides his still-hard cock out of her, which makes her shiver, and he comes to lie beside her, propped up on his left elbow. Her heart gradually stops beating hard enough to come out of her chest, and she lets her eyes rove over every inch of him, all golden skin and lean muscle and worry creases that now lie smooth on his untroubled brow.

“Brienne,” he says, just her name, nothing and everything wrapped up within it, and despite her jelly limbs and breathlessness she doesn’t wait for him to say anything else, simply reaches up and grabs him by the hair, pulls him to her, savors his groan of pleasure. One hot, wet kiss, and then he’s under her again, the dress bunching up between them and her shirt soaked beneath the leather doublet, it no longer feels luxurious, it feels like something keeping her from Jaime, keeping them apart, Jaime, Jaime—

Fuck,” he chokes as she attacks his neck with her mouth, lapping at the salt and musk on his skin even as she grabs his ass in a bruising grip. He rolls his hips against her, gasps, scrabbles at her back with his good hand. “Fuck, Brienne, please—fuck me.”

Distracted by the heft and heat of his flesh, she hums back in response—but suddenly his hand slides from her back to her hair, and then it’s her who’s being pulled away by a tugging at her scalp. She lifts her head to see him panting and starry-eyed, like he’s never seen anything so incredible before.

“I mean it,” he breathes, his fingers tightening in her hair. “Fuck me, Brienne, the way a man fucks a woman, please, make me—make me yours.”

Aroused, overwhelmed, giddy, Brienne isn’t sure if he’s not making sense or if she’s missing something.

Yes, he is hers, he is hers and she wants to make sure he and the Seven Gods above know it. But how could she—do that, to him, like a man would? A leather suit goes a long way, but it doesn’t actually change the shape of the body underneath.

“I’m not a man,” she says again, repeating herself for lack of anything else to say. Jaime’s eyes crinkle as he laughs breathlessly.

“I am wonderfully aware of that, Brienne, you perfect, incomparable woman.”

“But then how—I don’t have a—"

“You can,” he interrupts, lips quirking in a half-smile. “If you want to.”

It’s smaller than a real cock (at least, based on her indirect observation of many and in-depth study of a single one in particular), but well-shaped along the shaft and wide at the base. Made of polished green marble, it emerges from a neatly-tied linen bundle that Jaime apparently keeps locked in the back of his wardrobe.

In a night full of experiences she’d never dreamed were possible, this may be the absolute farthest Brienne has ever found herself straying from what she used to accept as reality. The image of Jaime, hair a mess and skin covered in her teeth marks, half-peeled out of her own dress even as he offers her a green marble cock like a proud heeler bringing back a fox, is one she will likely never forget.

“Where…is it from?” she asks, eyeing the delicacy of the cuts that define the head.

“Braavos,” he replies. “Apparently they’re common trade everywhere except Westeros, but one must look far afield for something of this quality. Go on, it won’t bite.”

Those last words are said in response to her hand coming up to hesitantly hover over the implement. She’s not sure if she wants to touch it at first, but once she forces herself to run a finger across its length, she has a sudden and irresistible urge to pick the whole thing up and grip it like the hilt of a sword. It’s heavier than she expected, balanced like a hunting knife, the marble already warming in her palm.

“I’ve had it for years,” he says hoarsely, and when she looks up she’s nearly scalding by the look in his eyes. “Secretly, you understand, just…for me. I found it after the battle, in the cellar where she crammed all of my belongings.”

She would never have asked, but Brienne is quietly glad to know that he never used this with Cersei. Her feelings toward the strange little object are already becoming—possessive.

“How do you use it?” She keeps her voice low, calm, free of the little tremor of nerves running down her spine. Jaime swallows as he watches her turn it over in her hands, his stump restlessly worrying the folds of his skirt.

“Well, you—you use it much the same as you, well, as one uses a normal—” He coughs, apparently not immune to nerves himself. “Only with a man, there’s nowhere to put it in the front, so…”

Brienne’s heart stutters in her chest. If he means what she thinks he means, then she really could make him hers, really could take him and fill him and consume him in the way he’s done for her so many times. She could give him that—and take it for herself.

“There’s also this…” Jaime coughs again as he pulls what looks like a tangle of leather straps out from within the bundle. “It’s for—if you wanted to, ah, wield it, so to speak, from the angle a man does, you know. If you wanted to wear it.”

She can’t begin to imagine how that leathery snarl could help her wear a cock, but that’s not as important as the realization that hits her all of a sudden: he may have owned this long before they came to each other, but he wanted—has wanted—her to use it with him. He’s thought about this, maybe even dreamed of it.

“Show me.”

She’s not a commander, and it’s not an order—but Jaime jumps into action just the same.

Brienne never knew a man could be this soft.

He’d been gentle and measured, if a little tense, as he’d walked her through the necessary procedures. After she’d taken off the bloody hot doublet and shirt, he’d pulled a little vial of floral-smelling oil from the Bundle of Magic Things and lain down on the bed, without bothering to remove the dress that was still gathered messily around his waist. They’d put the leather harness away again—while Brienne was already becoming slightly obsessed with the idea of using it, she was well-trained enough in swordsmanship to know that it was best to start with the basics—and piled a couple pillows beneath his hips, and she’d knelt by his spread knees, which were covered in the sloping canopy of his skirt.

Then Jaime had explained what to do, and how to do it, at least how to do it so that there was no discomfort on his part, and he’d also mentioned a couple facts about male anatomy that she’d absolutely never heard of, but suddenly seemed extremely incongruous with the idea that men didn’t enjoy being fucked the same way women did. When he’d seen the look on her face, he’d offered (while blushing very dark) to show her first, and when she’d nodded, he’d laid back and slowly, almost coquettishly, drawn the skirt up up up his long, muscular legs, until the ass that she’d been ogling earlier was exposed, and then he’d drizzled oil onto his fingers and reached down and—

It had taken only seconds of watching him to know she wanted to be the one doing that. And after slopping far too much oil onto her hands and briefly fumbling around trying to get seated at the right angle, Brienne is kneeling between Jaime’s legs, his skirt flowing blue and soft around them both, and she’s shocked at how soft he is.

She’s being soft too, stroking so gently that, if it weren’t for his sighs and gasps, she’d worry he couldn’t even feel it. It’s shatteringly intimate, touching him like this, looking at him from this position, especially as he slowly starts to harden again after their administrative interlude. His head is tilted back, eyes shut, his good hand fisted in the sheets and his chest rising and falling with deep breaths.

“Jaime,” she says, just to let him know she’s right there with him. He hums quietly in response.

“You can put a finger inside now,” he says a moment later, quiet and clear. Brienne takes a moment to pray to the Old Gods and the New—please don’t let me hurt him now, or ever again—and then begins to push gently, only to be surprised by how easily her finger slips into him, aided by the fragrant oil. Jaime gasps, but shakes his head when she asks if he wants her to stop.

“More,” he says with a very slightly tremor in his voice. “Keep going.”

And she does, moving her finger slowly and deliberately, nudging and stretching until he relaxes and she can fit another inside, and then another, and by that time Jaime has gone from calm repose to writhing on the bed like a man in agony. It’s not pain, though, she knows from the high-pitched whimpers and the fingers locked around her wrist and the way he begs her not to stop, over and over again until she’s not sure he even realizes he’s still saying it, a chant in time to the movement of her fingers inside of him.

At some point during all this, Brienne realizes he’s become fully aroused again, and in following with the philosophy of the night, she succumbs to her immediate instinct to lean down and (fingers still in constant motion) wrap her mouth around his cock.

Jaime shouts at that, voice cracking, seizing up around her fingers. The feeling of him in her mouth is one that she’s spent eight months trying not to fantasize about, and now she remembers why: it’s so fucking good, the weight and hardness of it, the way her lips feel sliding over the soft skin, and most of all the unbelievable high of knowing how good she’s making him feel, the absolute power she holds over him in that moment.

It doesn’t last long though; barely more than a minute passes before Jaime rips his hand out of the sheets and clumsily pushes her off of him, gulping air like a drowning man.

“Don’t, no, don’t, I’m going to—”

He stops, struggling for control, his whole body taut. Brienne can taste the bitterness of him on her tongue. She pets her leg with her free hand and feels him tremble at the touch.

“I don’t…want to come…without you inside me,” he finally manages to grind out. Her fingers haven’t emerged at any point, but she knows what he’s referring to—and she wants to give it to him.

Brienne removes her fingers and, at Jaime’s urging, briefly goes to clean them with soap in the wash basin before returning to the bed. She coats the marble cock with oil, just as he told her to, and then returns to kneeling.

“Are you sure?” she asks for the second or third time; when he doesn’t answer, she looks up to see him with his right arm flung over his eyes. “Jaime. Look at me.”

“I can’t,” he says, so quietly she can barely hear him.

Brienne wants more than anything to meet his eyes now, to be seen as only he can see her, to have him know she sees him so incredibly clearly. “Are you sure?”

He swallows, but doesn’t reply. Brienne kisses his knee—she won’t push him, not now, not when they’re already so far past the brink—and positions her instrument right there at the softest part of Jaime.

She gives him a moment to feel it, still outside, not yet joined to him. Oil drips off of it, staining the fabric of the dress beneath and making it, in Brienne’s opinion, truly lovely for the first time.

Then slowly, gently, she mounts her charge.

It shocks her, how much of it actually fits inside of him; she tries to only insert a couple inches, but Jaime moans and bucks his hips, driving it farther in, and then she lets him bear down until he wants to stop. They rest there for a moment, both of them panting, Brienne’s skin crackling with power and love and a sense of absolute rightness.

She starts slow and then goes faster and faster as Jaime appears to lose his mind, groaning and gasping and rolling against her movements with incredible strength. Brienne wants to watch him like this forever, but she also wants to look where her hand is wrapped around the marble cock like it’s the hilt of Oathkeeper, sliding it smoothly in and out, and she also somehow wants to float up above their bodies on the bed and gaze down at them, at how they look, wreathed in skirts and beautiful leather and green marble, covered in sweat and saliva and the glow of each other—she wants to stay in this moment, where she is taking him, as one person takes another, in total control, and she never wants to leave.

It’s been months since they were naked in bed together, but Brienne can still tell when Jaime is about to come: the hitch in his voice as he whines her name, the erratic jerking of his hips, the way his toes suddenly start to curl. She’s desperate for it, wants to see him in a state of total abandon, wants to take him there and catch him when he falls, and so when he starts to make strangled half-sobbing noises and twist at the waist, she reaches out with her free hand and grasps his cock in a firm grip, the callouses on her palm sliding over the burning-hot slick skin, and with a battle cry Jaime suddenly whips his arm away from his face and looks at her the way one looks into the sun, an ecstasy of devastation, holding her gaze for three or four seconds of pure tension before he throws his head back and chokes out her name one more time as he comes all over his chest and his stomach and her hand and the lovely lovely dress.

If Jaime was winded by their earlier tryst on the floor, he’s utterly destroyed now, weak as a colt and half-conscious throughout Brienne’s gentle cleaning of him with the towel. He comes to enough to watch her clean the marble cock off as well, intently scrubbing it with soap before toweling it dry and nestling it back into its linen bundle like a baby kitten being returned to the den.

“Well that was promising,” he croaks as she comes back to the bed and sits beside him. Brienne snorts and runs a hand over his sticky chest. Despite the cursory cleaning, they will both need to bathe very thoroughly tomorrow morning.

That thought—tomorrow—abruptly settles a heavy weight back across Brienne’s shoulder. Wrecked as he is, Jaime must be able to see it; he reaches up with his good hand and draws his fingers across her cheek.

“Is something wrong, Ser?”

“…I should return to the Queen,” she whispers.

Jaime raises an eyebrow and looks over at the floor where they’d dumped the dress after he’d finally stripped it off. It’s ripped in multiple places, covered with smears of come and sweat, and overall looks about ready to be burned, if not buried.

“You’ll have to find a change of outfit first.”

Brienne opens her mouth, but nothing comes out. Fuck.

“As we’ve established, my clothes fit you fine,” he says, running his thumb over her bottom lip. “Or you could just stay here tonight and rejoin Sansa in the morning. We can call a maid to fetch you a new dress—nobody has to know that we plan to destroy that one as well.”

“Jaime…” The playful smile on his face fades at the sound of her voice. “What are we going to do?”

“Well, as I said, you could stay here tonight—”

“I’m sworn to Queen Sansa,” she says bluntly, catching his wrist and holding it firm. “You serve on the Small Council, here in King’s Landing. How can we—it’s not possible to—”

“Brienne.” He’s giving her that look, the oh you funny giant simpleton look, and just on principle she flings his arm away. Jaime chuckles and sits up, wrapping both arms around her neck. “Brienne, was I not clear enough tonight?”

“About what, ser?” she says stiffly, very much not understanding why he’s so cavalier about this serious conflict of circumstances.

“About what I mean to do now. About what I meant to do months ago, if only you hadn’t decided to go off on a flight of fancy about not being Raevys Targaryen or whatever it was you—”

Brienne gets to her feet and strides over to his wardrobe, yanking the door opening and jerkily rifling through the clothes inside. The sooner she finds something to wear out of this room, the sooner she can prove to him that both of them can be dismissive arseholes.

“Brienne.” She doesn’t respond; he speaks louder. “Brienne.” She pulls a pair of breeches and matching tunic out of the wardrobe, turns around—

A naked Jaime is walking towards her, no longer smiling. He reaches out with his hand and stump both, catches her own hand before she can move away, tugs it forward so that she stumbles and finds herself staring directly into his eyes.

“If you will come with me to the sept tonight,” he says, “I will pledge myself to you, in marriage, in a classical ballad, in whatever way you wish. I will go to Queen Sansa and explain that I am married to her sworn sword, and if she is in need of a pikeman or an extra cook, I will gladly learn how to throw a spear and chop turnips. I will tell King Aegon the Dreary that I am resigning my post on the Small Council, and when Tyrion objects, I will remind him that I voluntarily relinquished my claim on Casterly Rock so that he could turn it into a laboratory for whatever strange ideas and inventions he and his lackey Varys care to dream up, and that most of the people in this city still think I’m poised to stab the King anyway, so as I’ve been saying to him for months, it will truly serve everybody’s best interests if I simply do what I’ve wanted to do since I was seventeen and leave King’s Landing and everything about it behind me forever. And then I will go with you, to the North or to Tarth or to the edges of the world, Ser Brienne, for that is what I know to be my truest path.”

Brienne tries to speak several times in the following moments, but nothing comes out at first. Jaime stands there, patiently waiting, exuding smugness, until Brienne finally manages to say something.

“You could never be a cook. Or a pikeman.”

“No, of course not,” he scoffs. “That was just for emphasis. I’ll find something worth doing in the bloody North—besides you, of course.”

Brienne just shakes her head at him. He always does this, even after all the falls from graces and humiliations he’s enduring. His easy, unstudied confidence is stunning in its immediacy, and again she thinks of trying to explain to him that for her, for a woman, especially a woman who cannot be a lady, things are never just so easy.

But then she remembers all those nights she spent in front of a blank page, trying to force herself to write like a lady, think like a lady, love like a lady—she remembers what a failure she felt, how hard it was, how it being so hard was the proof she used to convince herself that her and Jaime were not what they were. She remembers feeling wrong, as she’s felt all her life, and she remembers living without Jaime for no reason other than that having him had felt too good to be true, and she remembers earlier tonight, when he stepped into her clothes and offered to be the lady so that she didn’t have to.

“I’m not wearing a dress to the sept,” she says. Jaime’s eyes widen, and then he smiles—the way only Jaime can smile—and brings her hand to his lips.

“Well one of us has to, it’s only proper,” he mutters, kissing her knuckles. “But I’ll have to ask the maids to find me something in red. You know, so Father will approve.”

She loves him. She loves a lot of things, actually. The way his messy, rumpled, post-fuck hair sticks up like a silver-streaked bird’s nest. The unbelievably irritating delight he finds in saying unpleasant things just to watch her get mad. The masculine air about him that is even more powerful when he wears a dress, and the mixture of lust and admiration in his eyes when he talks about her wearing fine leather suits, and the years of respect that he has never once asked her to be grateful for. She loves all of those things.

But she really fucking loves her Jaime.