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“I hope you have a good reason for summoning me at this hour,” Jaime grumbled as he entered what used to be Hoster Tully’s solar. The faint tang of sourleaf clung to the air, so Emmon must spend some time here, but Jaime's aunt, Lady Genna, looked completely at home seated behind the massive desk.

Genna glanced up at him and sipped from a goblet of wine. "I'll let you return to your companion soon enough." She managed to make ‘companion’ sound like ‘whore.’  

"I was alone," Jaime corrected. "If you meant Brienne, leave her out of whatever game you're playing here."

"She carries a Lannister sword and looks at you as if she'd kill anyone who dared to touch you. If you expected that to pass without comment, you've lost your wits."

Brienne would kill for him. She had. Jaime hadn’t seen everything that happened in that cave, he’d been too busy fighting, but Brienne had emerged splattered with blood, clutching Robb Stark’s crown. She hadn’t spoken for two days, hadn’t wept but once, when she stripped out of her bloody clothes and walked into the ice-choked Red Fork to wash away the gore. Jaime had dragged her from the water, wrapped her in his cloak, and held her all night to keep her from walking out into the river again.

"Is that why you've called me here, Aunt, to lecture me about proper conduct? That seems unlike you." Jaime asked wearily.

He'd seen the looks they got, noted Brienne's discomfort surrounded by Freys in the castle where she'd served Lady Stark, but he'd been preoccupied with the influx of news from all around them, little of it good. Ironmen reaving in the Reach, sellswords under a Targaryen banner in the Stormlands, the Night's Watch allied with the wildlings according to some reports and Stannis from others.

There had been a battle near Winterfell, but reports of the outcome were contradictory. Closer to Riverrun, the remains of the Brotherhood still attacked and robbed stray soldiers, and the wolves had gained a taste for human flesh, fed by the many men the Brotherhood hanged.  

Genna held up a scrap of parchment, and now Jaime could see the dark circles under her eyes, the grim set of her mouth. “We’ve had a raven from the Red Keep.”

His blood ran cold. King’s Landing was a dangerous place these days, filled with starving sparrows, the armed Warrior’s Sons, and as many gold cloaks as the crown could pay. It wouldn’t take much to tip the city into bloody battle. Jaime feared an attempt on Tommen’s life was imminent, if it had not happened already.  

“Myrcella is dead,” Genna said reluctantly.

Jaime collapsed into the nearest chair. “How?” Another child dead, and he powerless to stop it. He was sickened to find himself relieved, that it was only Myrcella and not Tommen.

Truth be told, he remembered very little about the girl. She was lovely like her mother, polite and well-spoken the few times Jaime could recall spending much time with her. What he remembered best was the disappointment on Cersei’s face when the maester said the babe was a girl.

“She was returning to King’s Landing with one of Prince Oberyn’s bastards and took a fever. Cersei wants to send the girl back to Prince Doran in pieces.” Genna shook her head. “Without Kevan there to temper her wrath, I fear she may do it.”

Genna was never much for sentiment, much like Tywin in that way. She cared for the family’s reputation, for her own comfort, and tolerated her lord husband and sons. Caring about the fate of a Dornish girl was unlike her. "Have you gone soft these last weeks, Aunt? I don't recall it bothering you overmuch when I threatened Edmure Tully's unborn child."

Genna waved off his accusation. "My dear boy, that only worked because Tully doesn’t know you. You were ruthless in battle, but you aren't Gregor Clegane. You couldn’t rip a new-born babe from its mother's breast to throw it over the castle walls."

Red-cloaked bundles at the foot of the Iron Throne. Squalling golden-haired babes Cersei held at her teats and out of his reach. A boy on a window ledge. A fierce little wolf girl. "I could. I’ve done worse.”

Genna considered him. “Why are you still here? There was a time when you would have rushed back to your sister’s side.”

Jaime rubbed his wrist, where the golden hand had chafed a permanent manacle of roughened skin. “I had a sword hand then.”

Genna pushed aside her quill and parchment. “She doesn’t need a sword now. We don’t need a sword, we need a strong Lannister lord to secure Casterly Rock and Tywin’s legacy.”

Jaime laughed. “The only ally we have left is fucking Walder Frey, and he turns his cloak as often as he weds. There are no more Reynes to slaughter. A handful of Tullys held captive, the Starks dead or fled, a single sickly Arryn. Should I go to the Eyrie and toss him through the Moon Door? Would that make us look strong again?” He was nearly growling now, the weight of his new lordship uneasy on his shoulders. The white cloak had lifted that burden for so many years he’d forgotten that Tywin’s legacy was just as heavy. Mace Tyrell was behind Jaime’s release, as well as the addition of new Kingsguards from the Reach, all loyal to Highgarden.

“Don’t be obtuse, Jaime. You’re no maester, but you’re bright enough when you aren’t thinking with your cock. You needn’t kill anyone. Let the Ironborn and the Golden Company weaken the Tyrells. You need a wife, heirs, to show them the Lannisters will survive as we always have.”

Jaime recoiled from that idea. Elia Martell, Lysa Tully, Margaery Tyrell. Every woman his parents had considered had come to a bad end. Cersei had escaped so far, but her own deeds were like to be her undoing soon enough.

“Father tried to foist a bride on me before Joffrey’s body was cold, and I refused him. I won’t let you put some simpering fool in my bed now.”

Genna rose from her seat, taking the wine goblet with her. Her round face was flushed; she’d been drinking for some time. “The longer you remain unwed the more strength you lend the allegations about you and Cersei.”

“She won her trial,” he reminded her. As if combat would reveal innocence or guilt. All it showed was who commanded stronger men.

Genna shuddered. “With a corpse in armor. If you think that endeared her to the smallfolk or the Faith, you’re a fool.”

Jaime didn’t like to think of that, how his sister had turned to Qyburn and his monster in her time of need. When Jaime abandoned her, turned his back on everyone and everything and chased Brienne into the Riverlands. Brienne, who was determined to make her way to the Eyrie despite the wounds she’d suffered, who burned with the same zeal and self-loathing Jaime saw in Lancel at Darry. One lie, and Brienne might never forgive herself. At least she did not scourge herself, did not spend her days on her knees in the sept, though she would if he asked her to. Jaime saw that every time he looked into her guileless blue eyes.

“The North has no options we might consider,” Genna mused, pacing the room. “The Vale has only Myranda Royce, a widow. The Reach will not treat with us, or you might take the Redwyne girl Daven was courting. Arianne Martell would solve much, but she is too far away. We must strike quickly. Perhaps one of the Riverlords' daughters, or another Frey to keep old Walder in line.”

“I said no. I don’t want a wife.” Jaime still remembered the endless parade of highborn maidens who'd visited Casterly Rock, their fathers seeking Lord Tywin's favor. Pretty, biddable girls taught to say all the right things and do what they were told. Arianne Martell was no doubt more like Genna and Cersei, ladies who listened, who gathered information, who tried to guide their lord husbands. Neither Cersei nor Genna had much success.

Genna raised an eyebrow. “And I didn’t want Emmon. You will not return to King’s Landing without a wife. You will not piss away everything your father worked for because you fancy yourself Aemon the Dragonknight.”

Jaime bristled, twenty years of denial coming to his lips automatically. “I don’t know what you—”

“Find a bride, Jaime. Quickly. There are plenty of maidens and widows here for Daven’s wedding, all of them eager to become the Lady of Casterly Rock.”

The corridors were quiet now, but during the day the castle was filled to bursting with guests, mainly Freys but also some Riverlords like Jonos Bracken. “I’ve seen them. No wonder Robb Stark bedded the Westerling girl instead.”

Jaime didn’t bother to hide his bitterness. For some reason he’d thought becoming Lord Lannister might mean he could make his own decisions, but his aunt wasn’t above trying to outmaneuver him if he balked at her commands.

Genna perched on the edge of the desk, a large woman despite her short stature, glowering down at him. “And Robb Stark died for his selfishness, along with hundreds of soldiers and most of his bannermen. You may not care if your line is extinguished, but I do."

"I care," Jaime protested, thinking of Tommen.

"Then do this one thing for your family.”

 

 

Chapter Text

"I thought you of all people might understand," Jaime grumbled. He looked wretched, pale and tired despite sleeping until nearly midday. His hair stood up oddly and he picked restlessly at the bread and cheese she’d brought him for a very late breakfast.

Brienne had little sympathy for his plight. His suffering was entirely of his own making, and had left her alone wandering the castle this morning. She’d spent much of it in the snowy godswood, where she could be alone with her grief. Jaime tried to keep her away from that place, with its barren black trees and its slender carved weirwood, pale as death and crying red tears. Brienne had never found Hyle or Pod. Jaime had thought that a mercy, but she felt no better knowing that Lady Catelyn’s bones lay in the Hollow Hill, among the weirwood roots.   

The last time Brienne had been here, she was in Lady Catelyn’s service and Jaime was confined to a cell. Now Jaime was a lord and honored guest, sleeping in what used to be Edmure Tully’s chambers, and Brienne shared a cramped room with eight-year-old Bethany Blackwood, who seemed to think Brienne was her maid.

"You stayed up half the night with Ser Daven and made yourself sick with drink."

Jaime grimaced, idly scratched the back of his neck. "Lady Genna means to make me wed. The wine was a consequence of discussing the merits of the available maidens."

"Why would I understand that?" Only Jaime would bemoan having too many choices of bride.

Jaime’s gaze wandered from Brienne’s travel-worn boots to her slightly too-snug breeches and faded blue tunic. The maids had reluctantly found her men’s garb only at Jaime’s insistence. Before that, they’d left a series of dresses in her room, all so small or ill-fitting that Brienne had refused to wear them. Her own clothes were barely better than rags by now, stained and frequently mended by her inexpert hands.

"You were betrothed, more than once," he reminded her.

Brienne gaped at him. “Who told you that?”

He grinned, looking entirely too pleased with himself. “Heard the tale from the foul excuse for a knight himself. And he said he wasn’t the only one.”

As if that day hadn’t been humiliating enough, the idea of Red Ronnet telling Jaime about it horrified her. She took a seat across the small table from Jaime and poured herself a cup of wine. She rarely drank wine, but the sourness on her tongue was welcome, as was the delay in responding. Jaime rarely asked about her past, and she hadn’t offered to tell him. “My poor father stopped trying after the third betrothal.”

“What happened?” Jaime asked.

Ser Humfrey had come upon her in the yard, dressed in breeches and sparring with one of the squires. He’d not been expected back for hours, so Brienne had thought it safe. Her father had begged her to behave during Ser Humfrey’s visit. The man’s face had turned tomato red, his voice growing more and more shrill as he enumerated all the things which Brienne would not be permitted to do when she was his wife.

“I ended it,” she said simply.

Jaime eyed her curiously, her evasion piquing his interest. “Lord Selwyn allowed that?”

“Father had little choice. I broke Ser Humfrey’s collarbone.”

Jaime guffawed. “Why?”

“He promised to beat me until I became a lady.” Brienne could almost laugh too, a weedy old man thinking he could lay a single hand on her without her permission. But she remembered her father’s face when he saw what she’d done.

Jaime’s jaw tightened. “No wonder you ran off to serve Renly.”

Brienne could not jest about that. She’d loved Renly, blindly and wholeheartedly, as she would never love another man, but she had not truly known him. Even the few minutes she’d spent speaking to Ser Loras in her Red Keep cell had taught her that. Renly was no more the perfect, chivalrous king of her fancies than Jaime was the villainous Kingslayer.

There were still parts of Jaime she would never understand, but she knew what drove him. Not power. Not cruelty. Not coin. He needed love, craved it like other men craved sex or drink. Love had driven him to make vows and to forsake them; he would not be Jaime without it.

"What about the queen?" Brienne asked hesitantly.

Surprise flickered across his face. "Cersei would agree with Genna, though she would refuse if Genna made the same demand of her.”

Jaime tossed the last bit of cheese into his mouth, avoiding her questioning gaze. Marriage was rarely an act of love between the nobility. Perhaps his sister did not fear losing Jaime’s affections to another woman simply because he’d taken her to wife. It did not seem that Cersei had held much affection for her own husband, why would she expect Jaime to care for his wife?

Quietly, he admitted, “She and I are done, whether I wed or not.” Grief roughened his voice, and anger too. This ending was not easy for him, however it had come about.

Brienne picked at a loose thread on her tunic, tried not to show her surprise at Jaime’s confession. She hadn’t realized the rift between the twins was so deep. Even so, Brienne thought he was mistaken about his sister—she would hate any woman he wed, just as Jaime had hated Robert.

Brienne would not see how the queen treated Jaime’s wife. If, as she suspected, he planned to return to King’s Landing, Brienne would set out for the Vale. She could bear to stay at Riverrun no longer.

“Lord Lannister,” Brienne mused, the title unfamiliar on her tongue. “Surely you knew you would need to wed.”

Jaime pushed his empty plate away, fetched a small pot of salve from his bedside table. The golden hand, though beautifully wrought, chafed his skin. He preferred to go without it, but Lady Genna had insisted he wear it, as if it fooled anyone. So Jaime rubbed the pungent salve into his wrist each morning, and went about the castle smelling faintly of mint and cloves all day. Occasionally Brienne would catch a whiff of his scent in the corridors.

“I thought I would have more time,” he said glumly, working the salve into the scar tissue.

Brienne doubted that Jaime would be any happier about marrying a year from now, five years from now. She felt the same, despite the knowledge that the day would likely come for her as well. “Shall I give you the advice my septa gave me?”

“Lie back and pray for a son?” Jaime suggested with a smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes.

Brienne flushed. He was not far from the truth of it, though her septa had also admonished her to keep her opinions to herself and stay out of the armory. Jaime had no need of that advice. But Septa Roelle had offered one thought that might comfort him.

“She said I should not hope for love.” Brienne faltered and picked up her wine cup, unable to look at him while she spoke. “She said that beauty fades and passion wanes, but respect grows. She said that my lord husband could be my strongest ally and defender, if I proved that I would always guard his secrets and his legacy.”

Jaime did not respond, and finally Brienne risked looking at him. He was watching her, the pallor of his skin and the shadows under his eyes doing nothing to diminish his beauty. Golden and terrible and like no man she had ever known.

“Marry me.”

“What?” she sputtered, rising from her seat. A cruel jest, given what they’d just discussed, what Ronnet had told him.

“You heard me.” In three steps Jaime was before her, taking her hand in his.

Brienne waited for another jape, waited for his intent expression to become a smirk and a laugh and a cutting remark.

A slow smile curved his lips, but there was no cruelty in it. “My defender, keeper of my secrets, bearer of my honor… is you.” He released her hand, his fingers curling over the lion’s head atop Oathkeeper.

Brienne shook her head. “You’ve had too much wine.” She tried to push past him, but Jaime moved to block her path.

His eyes were bright now. “If I wed one of these maidens, I'll be bored in the first week and either ignore her or start teasing her until she wants to smother me in my sleep. And if your quest doesn’t kill you, you’ll someday find yourself pinned beneath some lout who isn't worthy of you."

“So I should be pinned beneath you instead?” Brienne snapped. She burned with mortification from her hairline down to her breasts, but the fire in her belly came from that very image flashing through her mind.

Jaime grinned wickedly. “It was me pinned under you last time. Turnabout’s only fair.”

There was the jape. At last. She wished her tongue was as quick as his. “Enough, Jaime.”

He frowned, backed away to give her space. For a moment, she thought Jaime might apologize. “There would be no bedding ceremony,” he promised. “I would not trust the Freys.”

Bile rose in Brienne’s throat. Lord Edmure had consummated his marriage in a chamber very much like this one while his family was slaughtered. “You shouldn’t, no matter who you wed.”

Jaime scratched at his neatly-trimmed beard, brow knit as he considered what to say next. “I don’t want a wife. You don’t want a husband. If we wed, I won’t force you to wear gowns or sew. You won’t be offended by every word out of my mouth.” He shrugged. “Or perhaps you will, but you won’t be surprised.”

In the stories, the handsome knight never told his lady that being unsuited to anyone else made them a good match. “If you don’t want a wife, then don’t wed." He’d taken this jest too far already.

“I've been convinced of the necessity, despite my displeasure," Jaime admitted. "I’ve had enough of people praising me to my face and spitting 'Kingslayer' behind my back. I don't want that from a wife too. I trust you.”

Trust was a thorny issue between them, though Jaime seemed to believe what he said. How could he trust her, who’d led him like a lamb to the slaughter? “You speak as though I’ve never betrayed you.” The room felt too warm, Jaime too close. Her hand strayed to Oathkeeper’s hilt, her fingers tracing the familiar carvings, skipping over the rubies set like drops of blood in the gold.

Jaime shook his head. “Not for coin or power. Unless Renly rises from his grave, I have nothing to fear from you.” He reached for her hand again. "Marry me.”

Brienne tried to tell him “no,” but the word caught in her throat. “I’ll tell Peck you’re ready to dress,” she stammered, and fled the room.

Chapter Text

Fair Walda, slim and lovely with only the slightest hint of rodent sharpness about her face, wore a cloth-of-silver gown and an ornate but ancient cloak with the towers of the Crossing embroidered in blue upon its back. She seemed to float as she walked into the sept on her father's arm.

Brienne followed, mindful not to step on the maiden's hem. This task would be easier if she were not wearing hastily-sewn slippers that slipped easily on the stone floor. Brienne had begged to wear her own boots, but the seamstresses insisted that they weren't proper attire for a wedding.

The heavy crimson gown Brienne wore was altered from two of Lady Genna Lannister's gowns: one to cover Brienne's broad shoulders and wide hips, and a second to create a vast skirt. Lady Genna had insisted the color made her eyes look bluer, but Brienne felt like a dancing bear paraded out for their amusement.

Just this morning, Lady Genna had presented her with a stack of immense blue and gray dresses, found packed away in an old trunk. Brienne had nearly wept. Lady Catelyn had had those simple, practical dresses made for her when they were at Riverrun together. Brienne had scarcely worn them at all, disappointing Lady Catelyn, but Brienne was no lady, and it was useless to pretend. Brienne had begged to wear one of the old dresses for the wedding, but Lady Genna had insisted it was silly to let her new gown go to waste.

Fair Walda reached the septon and Ser Daven. Daven had eyes only for his bride, a warm smile cracking through his bushy beard. Jaime kept a cautious eye on the Freys surrounding them. Both men wore crimson doublets trimmed with gold, beautifully embroidered tunics, black wool breeches, and polished boots. The golden hand peeked out of Jaime’s sleeve.

When Brienne reached him, Jaime stepped in beside her. Until this very moment, Brienne had been able to pretend that this was not also her wedding. Over the past four days, Brienne had woken each morning certain that Jaime would change his mind, just as she was certain when she refused to respond to his first proposal.

But Jaime had come back the next day, telling her about his conversations with various maidens and how insipid they’d all been, save the one who thought she could seduce him into making her Lady Lannister. She hadn’t taken kindly to being summarily picked up out of his bed and deposited nude in the corridor.

And then Jaime had asked Brienne to marry him again.

By then Lady Genna had cornered Brienne in the sept, told her that his niece (daughter) was dead, his sister’s behavior had become increasingly erratic, and the Faith would seize upon any excuse to arrest Queen Cersei again. Jaime needed to show the people that there was no cause to doubt their king’s legitimacy. Lady Genna, a Frey by marriage, did not mention it, but Brienne understood that Jaime’s reputation was sullied enough without marrying into a House who broke guest right and turned their cloaks during a wedding feast.

So Brienne had said yes. A marriage to Lord Lannister was more than her father could ever have dreamed for her, even with the taint of Jaime’s reputation. They would travel to King’s Landing together, Jaime would stay to protect the king, and she would take ship for Gulltown. Brienne could give him that much, and she would have far more freedom with Jaime than with a man who needed her island to make his fortune.

The sept was hot, too many bodies in a small space and candles blazing on the altars of the Mother and the Father. Candles also burned at the altars of the Stranger, the Warrior, and the Maiden. Brienne had lit those herself just before the ladies had stolen her away to dress her.

Rather than see Jaime’s reaction to her gown, Brienne stared at Fair Walda’s cloak, the intricate silver and blue Towers wrought upon the back. The embroidery was faded in places, the satin worn. Many a Frey bride had worn that cloak. The Tarth maiden's cloak was back in Evenfall, packed away somewhere with her mother's gowns and her jewelry. Septa Roelle had caught Brienne playing with it once when she was small, and Brienne had never seen it again. She still remembered the delicate stitching, gold, silver, and rose on azure velvet.  

No coat of arms graced the back of Brienne’s borrowed blue cloak now. It was too short, but Lady Genna had rejected Brienne wearing a worn traveling cloak or none at all. Jaime’s aunt had also offered her husband as an escort, but Brienne refused. Her father was not dead, she would not believe that without some proof; he was merely absent. In his absence, Ser Walton removed both Walda’s and Brienne’s cloaks.

The ceremony itself was largely unfamiliar to Brienne. Due to Tarth’s relative isolation, she had attended few highborn weddings. She had been so upset during Renly’s wedding that the service itself was nothing but a blur in her memory. The septon, however, had performed this ceremony many times and recited even the most poetic passages with little feeling. He droned through seven prayers and seven songs, his quavering voice making the words almost impossible to understand.

Then the septon instructed them to face each other, and Brienne could avoid Jaime no longer. His handsome face wore a familiar smirk as the septon spoke about the men bringing the brides under their protection. A ridiculous notion, yet a small, secret part of her thrilled to hear the words and feel Jaime’s hand as he swept a fine crimson cloak over her shoulders. One of his cloaks, trimmed with gold and still carrying his scent. Wearing the red of House Lannister should have disgusted her, but as Jaime well knew, her allegiance was to him, not his family.

“Repeat after me, Lady Walda. With this kiss I pledge my love, and take you for my lord and husband.”

Somehow, when Jaime had reassured her that there would be no bedding ceremony, Brienne had forgotten about the kiss.

Lady Walda repeated the line and Ser Daven answered her, drawing his bride to him. Their kiss seemed familiar enough that Brienne doubted it was their first.

The septon turned his attention to Brienne. Her face felt hot and her voice trembled even as she delivered her vow staring at a lock of golden hair curling behind Jaime’s ear rather than at his face. She could not pledge her love while looking into Jaime’s eyes.

Brienne knew she looked ridiculous, stuffed into her gown like a sausage in its casing, still slightly taller than Jaime in flat slippers. She had refused to look in a mirror when the ladies had given up on trying to make her look more womanly. She knew that the false compliments they offered were mocking. They had scarcely waited until she turned her back to giggle and whisper amongst themselves.

The kiss was no more than a formality, but it would be the first that Brienne had willingly given. She did not count Ser Owen Inchfield, who’d stolen a kiss and earned himself a singed backside when she pushed him into a cookfire.

Jaime closed the space between them. “With this kiss I pledge my love.” He hesitated. Jaime could be cruel, his tongue as sharp as any blade, but he would not beat her, rape her, or punish her for being herself. That he would not love her either seemed a fair trade. This was an alliance, no matter what empty words were spoken here. Yet it was an alliance between them, not their Houses, and Jaime had chosen Brienne for herself, not for her island.

“And take you for my lady and wife.” Jaime’s hand cupped Brienne’s cheek, calloused flesh against the still-tender ruin of her face, and she closed her eyes.

Brienne felt him lean in, resisted the flutter of anticipation in her chest.

Jaime’s beard rasped against her chin as his lips brushed hers, a soft nothing of a kiss, yet it warmed her. He kissed her again, lingered a moment before pulling away. When Brienne opened her eyes, Jaime was smiling, and she couldn’t help but return it.

The septon cleared his throat and opened his arms wide. "Let us celebrate the joyful joining of these two husbands and wives. May their years be long and their unions be fruitful."

And Brienne's smile slipped away. The bedding. There would be no public ceremony, but the duty remained, a heavy stone in her belly. While part of her yearned to know what it felt like to lay with a man, Brienne could not forget her septa's warning that rutting men were little more than beasts. After the Bloody Mummers, Vargo Hoat, and Biter, Brienne could believe it. But Jaime had saved her from rape, twice.

She left the sept on her husband's arm, fear and longing warring in her chest.

 

Chapter Text

There were advantages to sharing this day with Daven and his bride. Most of the guests were Freys more interested in Walda’s marriage and the advantages it might bring them. The exception was Aunt Genna, who sat on Brienne’s other side and told stories all evening, some serious, others ribald.

Brienne’s cheeks acquired a hectic flush as the evening progressed. She still wore his heavy cloak even after Jaime told her she could take it off. The hall was hot, and Brienne had been drinking Arbor Gold throughout the feast. Jaime had never seen her drink more than a few sips of wine. There was a soft look to her eyes and she smiled more easily, too.

Brienne did not smile when Daven asked her to dance. “My lord?” she asked Jaime, as if she needed his permission, more likely hoping for his refusal.

“Go, enjoy yourself,” Jaime had replied, and not only to amuse himself. Brienne moved well enough with steel in her hand. She must have some grace.

Daven was the awkward one, slightly out of step with the music and used to much smaller partners. This was all Daven's fault really. When they'd been talking about the available maidens, Daven had laughingly suggested Brienne. “Get a child on her and send her home to her island,” he’d said, then added, “Just pray the babes are all sons.” Jaime had dismissed Daven’s suggestion for the jibe it was until he’d spoken to Brienne.

Jaime watched her move, voluminous skirts swirling around her long legs. Brienne was focused on the steps of the dance, missing her mark occasionally when another dancer caught her eye or Daven tried to talk to her. Fair Walda danced nearby with one of her uncles or cousins. Jaime couldn’t keep them all straight. Where Brienne was stiff and anxious, Walda was smiling and happy.

Brienne had smiled in the sept, when he kissed her once, then again because it was new and good. For just a moment, she’d looked like she was happy to wear his cloak and bear his name. Jaime couldn’t look at Brienne without remembering how different it had felt, to kiss someone who wasn’t Cersei. He’d wondered if he could be with anyone else. Cersei was all he knew, all he’d ever wanted.

After Brienne returned from her dance, Jaime noticed Genna watching him expectantly. The wedding wasn’t enough for her; Jaime needed to consummate the marriage tonight. Genna had also insisted that Brienne be examined before the wedding, to be sure she was not already with child. Jaime might have refused if not for the slain hedge knight Hunt and how Brienne avoided talking about him.

Jaime leaned closer to Brienne, deeply irritated with the smug way Genna smiled at him. “Shall we retire to our chamber?”

“Yes, please,” Brienne answered, grateful but nervous, as he expected. The maester had reported that she was likely still a maid, though rape seemed to be the only injury she hadn’t suffered. Broken bones, torn flesh, scars beyond counting. The Seven had hardly been merciful.

Few noticed their escape from the feast. Most had congratulated the Lady of Casterly Rock with a few perfunctory words and moved on to more festive pursuits, eating and drinking and dancing. The walk to their chamber felt long, and longer still for the silence between them. They had spent little time together since their betrothal, Brienne’s time taken up with whatever it was that ladies did together while Jaime and Daven worked out where the Lannister host would go when it left Riverrun.

For Brienne’s sake as well as his own, Jaime had asked for new chambers for tonight. They needed no reminders of the Tullys' grim fate tonight. The chamber he ushered his bride into was smaller than Edmure’s old chambers, a single room rather than a larger suite. Their things had been moved here this afternoon, though they both brought little with them. Most of Jaime’s things were still with his host outside the castle. Brienne had only a small trunk to hold her clothes, her sword, and the saddlebags from the mare Jaime had given her in King’s Landing. Brienne owned little he hadn’t given her. Everything that was hers had been stolen or lost along the way. All she had left was herself, and by the laws of the Seven Kingdoms, she belonged to him now, too.

Fresh white sheets adorned the bed, the better to show proof of consummation. Candles and a roaring fire threw a soft golden glow over the room, and a carafe of red wine and two glasses sat on a table near the fire.

The maids needn’t have bothered. They both knew what was expected of them, and Brienne was nothing if not dutiful. They had kissed easily enough; Jaime could fuck her. His cock had firmed at the sight of her naked body back at Harrenhal, and Brienne was a maid. She wouldn’t know any different if his touches were awkward or he finished quickly. She might even prefer that.

Jaime shucked off his doublet without looking at Brienne. A rustle of fabric behind him likely meant she had finally removed his cloak, but his arm ached and he couldn’t wait to take off the golden hand. He’d chosen gold to please Cersei, not considering how heavy and cumbersome the thrice-damned thing would be. If Brienne couldn’t bear to see his stump, he would know soon enough.

Jaime pushed up his sleeve and started to work at the buckles fastening the golden hand to his arm with a series of straps. Jaime normally let his squires handle this, but he could do it himself, albeit slowly. He didn’t notice Brienne approach until she was beside him, a gentle hand on his forearm. Without a word, she let Jaime continue while she worked on a buckle near his elbow. As always, Brienne was efficient, unfastening two buckles before he’d pried his loose. She didn’t push aside Jaime’s clumsy fingers, just held the golden hand steady while he finished. Brienne set the hand on the table beside the empty wine glasses.

Freed of the heavy hand, Jaime sat to pull off his boots. Brienne kicked off her slippers, but remained standing, twisting her hands together nervously and looking around the bedchamber. It was larger than his Kingsguard cell, though not as large as the Lord Commander’s quarters. Light spots on the walls showed where Tully hangings had once been. Lord Emmon hadn’t had a chance to put his stamp on the castle, but he’d tried his best to scrub every trace of the Tullys from their ancestral home.

Jaime finally broke the silence. “Sit, wench. No one will disturb us tonight. We can take our time if that eases your mind.”

If anything, that seemed to make Brienne more flustered. She glanced at the door. Jaime couldn’t tell if she had hoped someone would come in or if she was afraid they might. “I want to take off this gown, but I can’t unlace it,” she admitted, tight sleeves straining as she struggled fruitlessly to reach the laces running down her back.

From any other woman, that would have been an invitation, a seduction. Take off my clothes, take me to bed. From Brienne, it was as much a show of trust as an acknowledgment of the duty before them. Jaime stood, gestured for her to turn around. He could make this night easier for her, perhaps the only gift he could give her that would matter. There was a slim dagger hidden in Jaime’s trunk for her too, but now did not seem like the right time to arm his skittish bride.

Brienne turned her back to him, her shoulders stiff. With her cloak removed, the problem was obvious. The gown was too tight, fitted so closely through the sleeves and shoulders that Jaime was surprised she’d been able to dance without ripping the silk. The back of her gown was damp with sweat from wearing the heavy cloak all evening.

Jaime loosened the knot and began pulling the laces free. Unlacing took time with just one hand, and the laces had dug into her back, making the whole process more difficult. Jaime paused, running one fingertip over the red weals. Brienne sucked in a sharp breath at his touch. The silk pulled tight against the laces, messy stitching all along one seam. A hasty repair.

“Can you breathe?” Jaime asked ruefully. “It looks like they sewed you into this.”

“It split,” she said stiffly. “They said the cloak would hide it.”

Jaime pulled at the laces again, careful not to draw them any tighter in the process. Brienne was breathing oddly, fast and shallow, and she swayed slightly as he worked. Perhaps she truly could not breathe deeply. The thought that she had suffered all day trussed up like a game bird and broiling under that cloak for the Freys’ amusement made him angry.

“I didn’t think it possible, wench, but this gown is worse than the pink one. It might benefit from a few rips and tears. Perhaps burning would be a better option.” Jaime tugged sharply on a lace, striving for a playful tone, but even he could hear his own irritation. His aunt should have known better, should have tried harder to make Brienne comfortable. The gown did nothing but emphasize her height, her broad shoulders and hips, the way her waist barely curved in. Her small breasts were lost in swirls of needless gold embroidery.

“They did their best.” This time Jaime heard the hurt in her voice. So often he forgot how young Brienne was. How the scars he could see were not the only ones she bore.

"Brienne, this wasn't their best," he said quietly, leaning close though it wasn’t needful. The walls of Riverrun did not have ears like those in the Red Keep. He tugged at a lace again, and the repaired seam gave way, splitting wide.

Brienne whirled around to face him. "What are you doing?"

This angry wench with blazing eyes was a vast improvement over the nervous maid who could barely meet his gaze. Brienne needn’t know it was an accident. She needn’t know how many of Cersei’s gowns Jaime had torn in his haste to be inside her, his desire to mark and claim her more powerful than his fear of being caught.

A sudden commotion in the corridor drew their attention to the door. Ladies’ high chattering voices, Genna louder than the rest, and Daven’s boisterous laughter. The ladies taking Daven to his bedding approached, then continued on down the corridor.

Daven had been looking forward to the bedding ceremony, and the night that would follow. He had chosen Fair Walda for her pretty face and ample teats, and had every intention of fucking his bride as often as possible before he marched from Riverrun in a week’s time. Jaime had kept silent about his plans. He had no idea what to expect from his bride.

Brienne was still watching the door, perhaps thinking about the bedding ceremony she’d been spared.

"They would have ruined this gown. Ripped it off you and pushed you into this chamber as naked as your nameday.” Jaime could see it in his mind, the embarrassed flush of Brienne's skin, the chill of the corridor tightening her nipples. She would have hated every second of it.

Jaime took hold of her laces again and yanked hard, widening the tear. Brienne’s gaze skittered back to him. “You’re never going to wear this again. Give the maids a thrill. Let them think I tore it off you.”

Brienne’s eyes were wide, the bodice of her gown loose except where it cut into her shoulders, trapped her arms. She curled her fingers under the edge of one sleeve, considered what he was suggesting. Did she think Genna would be upset if the gown was destroyed? Knowing Genna she’d clap him on the back and congratulate them both. She wanted Jaime to sire an heir far more than he did.

Brienne bit her lip, then tore one sleeve from the bodice with a loud, satisfying rip. Her muscular arms flexed, the silk shredding along her other shoulder. She noticed and finished the job, tearing the other sleeve open and yanking at the seams until they gave way.

Jaime grinned, settled back into the chair to watch her.

Silk fell apart in Brienne’s capable hands, exposing more pale skin with every rip. The bodice slipped away from her chest, and one last tug ripped the tight waist. The shredded gown dropped into a crimson puddle at her feet, leaving her in a sleeveless white shift.

Brienne wore no jewels, no adornment, just firelight playing across her freckles and scars, her eyes brighter than sapphires.

“There’s my wench.” Stripped of finery, she looked more at ease, more herself.

“Jaime.” There wasn’t even a hint of rebuke in her voice anymore. Brienne glanced from him to the vast bed, his cloak a splash of red on the dove grey coverlet.

His turn, then. Jaime unlaced his breeches, stood to push them down.

Without waiting for him, Brienne turned toward the bed. In one swift, graceful movement, she pulled her shift up and over her head. Any knight would envy the powerful muscles of her shoulders and back, but the flair of her hips and the curve of her arse were obviously, pleasingly womanly. Brienne was bare but for silken smallclothes, and Jaime was getting hard.

This wasn’t new, but acting on it was. Jaime couldn’t decide which was more unlikely: that he was about to fuck the woman who’d dragged him through the Riverlands in chains, or that he wanted to fuck her.

By the time Jaime had stripped off his tunic and tugged off his breeches, Brienne was already in bed, holding the sheets over her breasts with one hand. The candles closest to the bed were no longer lit but still smoking; she’d blown them out, casting shadows over the bed.  

Jaime wanted to tease her about snuffing the candles after she’d boldly stripped in front of him, but there was something so fragile about her in that moment he kept silent. Brienne watched him warily, forcing herself not to look away even while a deep flush spread over her face and chest.

Despite the fire, the air was chilly on his bare chest, the stone floor cold under his feet. Still wearing his smallclothes, Jaime climbed into bed beside her. He felt like a green boy, unsure how to begin.

The bed was large, but neither of them was small. Their arms touched; her leg brushed against his. Her face was so close he could count the freckles on her nose and see where she’d worried away the skin on her lower lip.

Jaime turned on his side, braced himself on his right arm so he could see her better. He wished Brienne hadn’t blown out the candles, it was harder to read her expression in shadow. Before Jaime could second guess himself, he leaned in and kissed her.

Brienne’s lips were soft and still under his, as they had been in the sept. Jaime started slowly, a brush of lips, a peck to the corner of her mouth. Then he touched her cheek, gently encouraged Brienne to turn her face toward his. When she did, Jaime kissed her again, drawing her plump lower lip between his, the tip of his tongue brushing her lip.

She made a small, startled gasp, her mouth opening just enough to allow Jaime to deepen the kiss, his tongue flicking against hers. He shifted his weight, rested against Brienne’s side. The sheets were bunched up between them, but Jaime could still feel her, solid and warm against him from chest to feet. And unmoving.

If Brienne didn’t start responding soon, Jaime wasn’t sure what he would do. Cersei had sometimes pretended disinterest or feared being caught, but she’d never been passive. And he didn’t want to think about Cersei right now.

“Brienne,” he sighed against her mouth, and finally her lips moved against his.

It was a dance, Jaime leading and Brienne following. Soft and chaste kisses became deeper, wet and searching. Brienne’s hand came up to touch his shoulder, to grip the hair at the nape of his neck, her fingers clenching a little too hard when Jaime bit her lower lip. The mix of pleasure and pain went straight to his cock, making him groan.

Brienne pulled back, releasing him. "Did I hurt you?"

“No.” Jaime was touched by the ridiculous concern in her eyes. But her lips were red and wet and he wanted to kiss her again. So he did, trying to get closer to her but finding it impossible. Brienne’s arm was trapped between them, still clutching the sheet.

“Let me touch you,” Jaime whispered, kissed her jaw while he tugged at the sheet.

She shook her head a little. “Why would you… I thought you would just…”

Jaime looked up, hoping her eyes would tell him what she couldn’t say. “Stick my cock in and fuck you?” he guessed, struggling to keep the irritation out of his voice. Her horrid septa seemed to have poisoned her against any thought of pleasure.  

Brienne nodded, eyes darting away from his. All of her earlier bravery was gone.

He’d been trying to take this slowly, for her benefit more than his, but the uncertainty and distrust on her face snapped something inside of him. Jaime pulled the sheet again, and this time he didn’t let her resist, exposing her body to his gaze. Two small, firm breasts sat atop the broad expanse of Brienne’s freckled chest.

She reached out to snatch the sheet back. Taking advantage of her surprise, Jaime pinned her wrist to the bed and dragged her body against his until she was beneath him.

“Like this?” Jaime asked, a growl against her jaw. "Is this what you thought I wanted?" Brienne’s bare breasts were against his chest, his cock hard between her legs. It took all his willpower not to grind against her as she bucked up, trying to push him off.

Abruptly Brienne stopped fighting, her breathing heavy and harsh in his ear, her body rigid beneath him. "Yes,” she breathed, voice shaking.

Somehow her surrender rankled more than her assumption. Where was his wench, the maid who’d bitten off Vargo Hoat’s ear rather than let him have his sport?

All the air left Jaime’s lungs, and he pressed his face to the curve of her throat, Brienne’s pulse racing under his lips. She was afraid, she’d been taught to be afraid, but she was determined to do her duty despite the fear. Even if that meant lying still and letting Jaime hurt her.

And he was clutching her wrist so hard she might have a bruise by morning. Jaime relaxed his grip, slid his hand out until their palms met and he could weave his fingers between hers. He pressed a light kiss against her throat, shifted his body against her side again.

Slowly Brienne relaxed.

“Tell me what she said,” Jaime prompted, releasing her hand.

“Who?” Brienne’s eyes were closed, her tongue darting out to lick her lips.

“That shrivelled cunt of a septa. What did she teach you about your bedding?” His fingers stroked lightly up her arm, across her collarbone, down to the modest swell of her breast. A single fingertip swept across her nipple, and Brienne arched up with a startled cry, rubbing her firm thigh against his cock.

“She said it would hurt.” He stroked her hardening nipple again, and her blunt fingernails bit into his back. “She said to keep quiet, and if I didn’t fight, it would be over soon.”

Suddenly Brienne’s behavior since entering their chambers made perfect sense. Her septa had prepared her for a man who was at best indifferent to her. The Brave Companions had prepared her for a man who wanted to hurt her.

Jaime was neither. He could do this, could take her maidenhead with as little pain as possible, as much pleasure as she’d let him give her. Jaime kissed the noose’s mark on her throat, the slashes the bear had left on her shoulder, then took her nipple into his mouth. Her hips rocked up, her thigh rubbing his cock again, and her breath came in quick pants.

Jaime released her nipple, looked up at her. Brienne was looking back at him, eyes wide and dark. “It will hurt,” he agreed, caressing the underside of her breast, down along her ribs. “But only briefly, and it will be less if you let me touch you first.” His hand dipped down to her taut belly, toying with the waist of her silken smallclothes.

Brienne licked her lips. “Yes.” Breathless, wanting. Her hands still clutched the sheets and his back, as if she could anchor herself here.

That was what he wanted, desire not submission. Jaime moved down her body, hooked his fingers into her smallclothes and tugged. She froze for a moment, then lifted her arse up off the bed to make it easier for him. This would be simpler with two hands, but his right arm was only useful for holding himself up, and not even that for very long.

Lying naked before him, Brienne looked different than he remembered from Harrenhal—leaner, with fewer bruises and more scars. Even her eyes were different. Just as brilliant, but softer, no longer viewing him with contempt and hostility.

Jaime swiftly removed his own smallclothes, and she watched him curiously. He was hard again, could show her how to touch him, if she wanted, how to make him moan in her grasp. Jaime wanted to taste her, too, but that might be too much tonight.

Instead Jaime lay beside her, his cock pressed against her thigh, and brought his mouth to hers again. Brienne turned toward him, her mouth opening to him, their kisses deepening. His hand roamed over her breasts, rolling her nipples between his fingers until she was squirming against him, his cock sliding slickly against the front of her thigh.

He hadn’t done this in so long. The feel of her skin, the taste of her lips, the sounds she made, it was all intoxicating. Far from not being able to fuck another woman, Jaime could already feel the pressure building, the tension in his muscles.

His hand found its way between her legs, through the damp curls that guarded her cunt. Brienne arched up into his hand when he found her slick and swollen, a moan escaping her lips.

Jaime stroked her, let his fingers dip inside her, as her hips started to roll to the rhythm his hand set. Brienne seemed to know where she wanted his touch, pushed up to meet his fingers and take them deeper into herself. Her hand slid down his back, nails scratching him in a way that made him thrust against her leg.

Their kiss became no more than Brienne panting against his mouth, all of her shyness and uncertainty gone, so Jaime kissed his way down her jaw, her neck, to her breast while his hand worked between her legs. He suckled her, bit down gently on her nipple, and her hips snapped up, her body shaking against him as she cried out her pleasure.

Jaime waited until her breathing began to even out before he withdrew his hand and settled between her long legs.

Brienne opened her eyes, smiled, breathed out his name. That alone made him harder.

Jaime had never seen her so relaxed, so content in her own skin. Brienne wasn’t beautiful, but lying in his arms, flushed and looking at him with trust and affection and desire, she was who he wanted.

Jaime watched Brienne’s face when he entered her, seeing no more than a flicker of pain before she wrapped her strong legs around him, held him close, warm and slick and moving with him. He bent to kiss her again as they met in an easy rhythm, advance and retreat. After a few minutes, Brienne’s hands tentatively came up to trace the lines of his back, his flanks, coaxing him to rest his weight more heavily on her when his right arm began to tremble. It was all too much, far better than he’d hoped for when they entered this chamber. Too soon Jaime lost the rhythm, spent himself deep inside her.

He felt heavy, wrung out, rolled away to catch his breath. Wedded and bedded. He still couldn’t quite believe it. Jaime turned on his side to look at Brienne again. She was staring at the canopy above them, dazed and for once not rushing to cover her nakedness. Sweat was drying on her stomach, his seed glistened on her thighs. Jaime already wanted her again.

A log popped in the hearth, and Brienne startled. She glanced at Jaime, bit her lip, looked away.

When the silence became too heavy, Jaime tried to think of something they could talk about, something other than the war, the journey ahead of them, or how well he had just deflowered her.

“Old Walder fell asleep in the sept,” he said.

Brienne looked bewildered. Admittedly, Walder Frey was not a subject Jaime would normally broach in bed with his naked and sated wife. “He did not."

"Who could blame him? I might have nodded off, too. I swear the septon added a prayer to the Moonsingers at the end to see if we were paying attention." Jaime had attended many noble weddings over the years. Robert loved a feast, and no one would turn away the king. The ceremony was both familiar and tedious.  

“Jaime, he did not,” Brienne protested, turning to face him.

“He definitely changed the prayers for you.” Jaime mimicked the doddering old man’s voice. “May the Maiden blind you to your lord husband’s prodigious failings, the Mother grant you infinite patience with his wicked tongue, and the Crone grant you the wisdom to stop placing his life above your own.”

Brienne blushed right down to her breasts, already pink from his mouth and beard. She hesitantly stretched her hand across the sheets to clasp his. “Jaime, I will do my best, but you saw me today. I am not graceful or lady-like or well-spoken. I could scarcely manage a single dance with Ser Daven.”

Jaime squeezed her hand. “I prefer your steel to your courtesies, as you well know, my lady."

A shadow crossed her face, and she withdrew her hand. "I know."

Chapter Text

Brienne woke with Jaime spooned against her bare back, his breath warm on her shoulder and his stump resting on her hip. The heavy curtains made it impossible to tell how late it was, but the maids had already built up their fire, left a simple breakfast on their table, and taken away their discarded clothes. Brienne slipped away before Jaime woke, not quite ready to look into his eyes and speak to him again when all she could think about was Jaime touching her, Jaime inside her.

She spent the rest of the morning in the library pouring over maps of the Vale. Jaime found her there in the early afternoon, showed her the message that had just arrived. Queen Cersei, fearing a conspiracy against the Lannisters, had taken the King and sailed for Casterly Rock in a hired merchant vessel. Rather than a small escort to the Red Keep, Jaime now needed a larger force to go to Casterly Rock. He had no men to spare for Brienne’s escort to the Vale. Not until the King was safe.

Brienne understood what he wasn’t saying. A few months together on the road and in King's Landing had now become an entire winter at Casterly Rock. With Queen Cersei. Brienne retreated to the privacy of the godswood, where Jaime would not see her tears. He wouldn’t understand. Brienne had told herself that she could give Jaime her vow and not betray the others she’d made, but in the end she’d traded her promises to Renly and Lady Catelyn for one night in Jaime’s arms.

She was still berating herself when Lady Genna asked her to join Fair Walda and her cousins for an early dinner in a small, private dining room. Lady Genna was eager to tell Brienne all about Casterly Rock and Lannisport. The Frey girls spent much of the meal questioning Lady Walda about her wedding night. Lady Walda wouldn’t answer most of their questions except to say that she thought her husband was pleased with her.

“I heard that Lady Brienne’s gown was torn up on the floor this morning.” Everyone stopped talking to look at the blonde who’d spoken. Brienne recalled that one paying Jaime a lot of attention before their betrothal. “Perhaps Lannister men are just as much beasts as their sigil.”  

Brienne blushed with embarrassment and anger on Jaime’s behalf, but he had marked her. A bruise circling her wrist, a love bite on her breast, and a lingering soreness between her legs. The Maid of Tarth no more.

“My husband is no beast, Merry,” Fair Walda snapped. “I doubt Lord Jaime is either. A bit too accustomed to camp followers, but not cruel.” She colored, perhaps realizing she’d said more than she’d intended.

Merry’s face pinched as if she’d sucked a lemon. She opened her mouth to retort, but Lady Genna spoke up. “Ladies, let us call for dessert. I believe there are still some sweets left from the feast.”

No one dared contradict her. Brienne felt eyes on her, but when she looked around, it was only Fair Walda, a small, sympathetic smile on her face. Brienne returned her smile, but she did not need the other bride’s sympathy. Jaime had been attentive and generous, the whole experience better and sweeter than she’d imagined possible. But afterward, before her heart could run away with her, he had gently reminded her who he’d wed—his comrade, not his lady.  

Brienne would not share any of that with these women.

Their remaining days at Riverrun passed swiftly. Jaime and Ser Daven spent much of their time planning the movements of the Lannister army. Brienne was left with the ladies, who talked idly about their many cousins and preparations for the coming winter, teasing Lady Walda about Ser Daven’s voracious appetite in the bedchamber. Brienne slipped away whenever she could to practice swordplay and copy maps of the Vale.

Her new position was strange. Servants who had barely acknowledged her before rushed to provide Lady Lannister with anything she might need. They often had to repeat her new name several times before Brienne realized they were talking to her.

Lady Genna spoke to her as if they’d known each other for years instead of days, her easy familiarity keeping Brienne off balance. She told stories of the little boy Jaime had been, trading clothes with his sister as if no one could tell them apart at seven years old. Lady Genna asked more questions about Brienne’s family than Jaime ever had, offering sympathy over the loss of her mother and siblings, but insisting that Brienne need not fear childbirth with such broad hips. Soon she would have tall, strong sons, Lady Genna promised. Lion cubs to rule the Rock.

Lady Genna’s certainty was puzzling. Servants had surely seen Brienne and Jaime abed together, but after that first night their sheets were always clean. One morning she felt him stir behind her, expected him to move away, but Jaime wrapped her in his embrace, nuzzled her neck, his body solid against her, his hard cock lazily grinding against her arse. She let out a soft moan without meaning to, and Jaime startled and rolled away from her as if he'd suddenly woken too close to the fire.

The only lion cubs made in this castle would be Ser Daven and Lady Walda's. The army was due to leave Riverrun the same day Jaime and Brienne began their journey, and Ser Daven seemed eager to get his bride with child before he left. Fair Walda still smiled as the days passed, giggled and whispered with her chatty cousins, but Brienne noticed how uncomfortably she sat each morning.

They could have their cubs. Brienne hated that diminutive, as if her children would be solely Jaime's, never mind that one would inherit Evenfall Hall, if there were two. (If Evenfall still stood.) But there would not be one, much less two, because Jaime showed no interest in bedding his wife again. As if to confirm her uselessness, her moon's blood came only three days after they lay together.

Jaime sat beside Brienne at dinner, sometimes held her in his sleep, but nothing else between them had changed. When they spoke, Jaime was full of complaints about grasping bannermen, bored soldiers looking for trouble, and the ongoing idiocy of Lord Emmon Frey. If Lord Emmon had his way, half of the army would stay at Riverrun to guard his misgotten castle from the smallfolk who wished a Tully still ruled there.

Meanwhile the wolves grew ever bolder, forcing smallfolk from their meager holdings and into the few towns that the Mountain hadn’t burned. Brienne was not eager to travel the Riverlands again, but at least this time she traveled with soldiers, and bedded down each night in Jaime’s tent.

On their first night away from the castle, Brienne fell asleep in their bed while Jaime and Ser Addam Marbrand talked around the fire just outside their tent. Jaime came in sometime later, crawled under the furs and molded his body to hers with a muttered apology she suspected was more for his smell than for his nearness. His camp bed was not nearly so large as their bed at Riverrun. Considering she’d been bound to him when he stank of shit and rotting flesh, a warm, clean Jaime smelling of woodsmoke was no burden.

They traveled the River Road west, slowed by occasional snow squalls. On the fifth day, they made camp early in the ruins of a walled town. Most of the walls were intact, offering some shelter from the approaching storm. Late that night, Brienne felt Jaime get up, heard him pull the tent flap aside and the crunch of his footsteps through the snow. She was dozing again when he slipped back into bed, snow melting on his sleeping tunic and his feet cold as ice against hers.

“You’re freezing,” Brienne hissed, squirming away from him until she nearly fell out of bed.

Jaime wrestled his damp tunic off, flung it to the floor, and pulled her back to him with his shortened arm. “Then warm me up, wife.” His lips grazed her ear when he spoke, and Brienne’s shiver was only partly from the cold. He buried his face in her shoulder, his beard tickling her skin.

Brienne could just roll over. Jaime was right there, close enough to touch, close enough to kiss. His lips rested on her skin, his stump pressed against her belly. Her breasts tingled with the memory of his mouth on them.

Then the wolves began to howl. First one, far away, then another answered close by, and then still closer, all around them.

They both jerked upright, Jaime cursing as he threw back the furs, yanked on breeches and shoved his feet into his boots. Ser Addam burst in just as Jaime was pulling on a fresh tunic.

“Fucking wolfpack,” Ser Addam cursed. Sentries had reported that the pack was following them. They’d known it was only a matter of time before the wolves attacked.

Neither noticed she'd gotten up until Brienne crossed the tent bare-legged to retrieve her breeches. Ser Addam’s eyes widened and he looked swiftly away, as if the sight of her in a shift was something indecent.

Jaime turned back, frowned. "What are you doing?"

"Going with you." She pulled on breeches, socks and boots while Jaime stood there watching her. She’d find a tunic once Ser Addam was gone.

Jaime’s mouth was set in a grim line. "Addam, sound the alarm. I'll be right there."

Ser Addam left the tent as Brienne opened a chest looking for a padded tunic and chainmail.

"You're not coming," Jaime said flatly.

"Yes, I am." She gave up on the chainmail and grabbed a heavy wool tunic. Brienne hesitated a moment, but modesty was for the maid she’d been. She pulled her sleeping shift over her head, refused to look at him, to see if he was at all affected by the sight of her bared breasts. The wool scraped over her cold-hardened nipples as she pulled the tunic on. Brienne raised her eyes to his defiantly. “I’m not helpless. I want to fight.”

Jaime grabbed her by the shoulders, fierce green eyes burning into her. "No, Brienne. You stay here."

"Is that an order, my lord?" she snapped.

Jaime gritted his teeth, his fingers tightening around her shoulder. He hated when she used his title. "If you'll obey it, yes."

Obey, don’t fight, stay here with the women and the boys, the useless and weak. Had he forgotten which woman he wed? "I won't."

Jaime's hand slipped down her arm and squeezed. "It's too dangerous." She started to protest and he cut her off. "Not for you. For my men. If their lord’s wife is out there, who do you think they'll be watching? You or their quarry? They'll be too busy trying to protect you to protect themselves."

Brienne faltered. She hadn’t thought of that. There was a time she would have treated Queen Margaery that way, but Brienne had never thought of herself as someone who needed protection.

Jaime must have read the change in her eyes, because he leaned in and kissed her, quickly but firmly, a thank you and an apology in one gesture. He threw on a padded tunic, grabbed his sword and cloak, and vanished into the night.  

Brienne could not sleep. Wind whistled through camp, tent canvas flapping and horses whinnying. In the distance, the wolves howled, snarled, and yipped. Once she heard a man screaming. Her breath caught until she was certain it wasn’t Jaime—she knew his screams, would never forget the sound of his agony.

Jaime had only told her to stay in camp; he hadn't been so stupid as to try to confine her to their tent. As the hours passed and the men did not return, Brienne traded her tunic for one of Jaime's, slightly too tight across her chest but embroidered with lions. She topped it with a hooded cloak she'd borrowed twice before Jaime insisted she keep it, blood-red and lined with fox fur. She strapped Oathkeeper to her hip.

If Lady Lannister could not fight, she could still be of use.  

The camp was blanketed with heavy, wet snow, and it was still falling, thick flakes the size of copper stars obscuring her view of all but the nearest tents. Ser Addam was still gone, as were Jaime’s other captains. She circled the camp and found soldiers too young to grow beards on watch, all with cold-reddened faces and drooping, tired eyes.

Brienne spent the pre-dawn hours rousing the remaining squires and soldiers from their beds, putting them on watch around the town walls while the night’s sentries slept. Dawn came gradually, as only a lightening of the gloom. Brienne checked on the cooks, the pot boys and washerwomen, found the host’s single maester tending to a man whose arm was covered in deep, oozing bites.

Soldiers straggled in throughout the morning, but none of them were Jaime. Brienne stood watch by the town’s main gate until Ser Addam returned and insisted that Jaime would have his head if he found her there. Exhausted, Brienne reluctantly returned to their empty tent. She still could not sleep.

By midday, two bodies had been brought back, and another six men were being treated in the maester’s tent. The wolves should have long since given up, preferring the cover of darkness for hunting, but the snow fell so thickly that the gloom had never truly lifted. Snow drifted around the town walls and covered the tents. Brienne had never seen so much snow. It smothered light and sound.

When their tent flap finally opened, Brienne expected another report from Ser Addam. Instead, Jaime stood there, his cloak rendered Kingsguard white with snow, his hair dark and wet, and blood frozen to his tunic.

“You’re hurt, you should see the maester,” she protested, finding herself before him without even remembering rising from their bed.

“It’s nothing, wench. It’s not a bite,” he said dismissively, fumbling with the clasp of his heavy cloak.

“What happened?” she asked, brushing aside his hand to unfasten the cloak and lay it aside. His tunic was ripped, a shallow gouge running across the front of his right shoulder.

Jaime shook his head, mumbled, “I slipped and fell.”

Brienne stripped him out of his snow-caked clothes, cleaned and bound up his wound, and bundled him into bed with the promise that she would wake him if he was needed. Peck brought them both some bread and cheese, but Jaime was already asleep. Brienne nibbled some, then closed her eyes while she rested in a chair by the brazier.

"Wench, come here." Jaime sounded so impatient; she wondered how many times he'd called to her.

Brienne stumbled out of her chair, tripping over Jaime’s sodden clothes. She landed on her knees beside the bed, checking him over restlessly, hands skimming over his shoulders, his arms. "What's wrong?"

Jaime yanked back the furs, exposing his bare torso. "My lady wife is sleeping in a chair like my nursemaid," he said irritably.

Brienne's relief was palpable. She pulled off her boots and overtunic, still dressed enough to avoid embarrassment if Ser Addam came back. She checked Jaime’s bandage for fresh blood, and, finding none, slid into bed beside him, covering them both with furs.

Jaime lay on his back, taking up far more space in the bed than usual, and Brienne had no choice but to fit herself against his side, her head resting on his uninjured shoulder. His arm came up around her back, and she placed one hand on his chest. His heart beat strong and steady under her palm.

“Don’t leave me behind again,” Brienne whispered. She never wanted him out of her sight in battle again. It was too nerve wracking.

"I always come back," Jaime answered softly.

They all thought that, every farmer and candlemaker and lordling who went off to battle. And many of them were wrong. Brienne closed her eyes, too tired to fight this particular battle right now.

She was nearly asleep when Jaime asked, “Will you come back?”

Brienne knew what he meant. What would she do if she found Sansa Stark? She had no answer for him, so she kept silent, and let sleep take her.

 

Chapter Text

The wolves followed them west. They didn’t attack again, but made their presence known. Despite posting sentries, there were wolf tracks in the snow inside the camp each morning, and they howled off and on all night. The men whispered that the wolves were Robb Stark and his bannermen come to take their revenge.

Neither wolves nor ghosts stole a cask of wine or a heavy sack of grain from the wagons during the night, nor did they light the fires the scouts occasionally found near the road. Whether the people hiding in the woods were the remains of the Brotherhood or just displaced smallfolk, Jaime couldn’t tell. He saw them just once. During the attack, Jaime had come upon a ragged boy stealing an injured soldier’s boots and dagger. The boy made the mistake of raising the dagger against Jaime and took a sword through the chest, but not before his stolen blade cut through Jaime’s boiled leather.

That might have been the first lie Jaime had ever told Brienne. She would never leave him alone if she thought a half-starved child might best him. They’d been separated for much of the fight with the Brotherhood, and Brienne had no idea how pathetic his left-handed swordplay truly was. As it was, she kept him within her sight constantly for the next three days, until his wound had knit together and the maester said there was no further danger of infection.

Jaime didn’t mind having his wife curled up against him at night, but it was a slow, intimate torture. He'd been thinking about her, at odd moments, since the wedding. Long before that, if he was being honest with himself. But before he bedded Brienne, those thoughts had never strayed to wanting to kiss the nape of her neck when he walked up behind her, or wondering what her thighs would feel like wrapped around his hips as she rode him.  

Jaime still thought about Cersei, too. It was impossible not to, when she waited at the end of this journey. One morning Jaime had woken wrapped up with Brienne and panicked, thinking he shouldn’t be there, he’d be caught, they’d lose their heads. Jaime was on his feet before he’d remembered he wasn’t in the Red Keep and no one cared if he wanted to start the day by fucking his wife.

Jaime did want her, and fool that he was, he had waited patiently for a sign that Brienne wanted him again. But each night she climbed into bed in her shift and turned her back on him. They were on the road and well away from Riverrun before it occurred to Jaime that he would be waiting forever if he expected Brienne to seduce him.

If not for the thrice-damned wolves and the boy and his knife, Jaime might have spent that night and those that followed exploring all the ways he could make Brienne fall apart. Instead she treated him like he was made of glass, although he supposed that was only fair when he’d done the same, keeping her away from the fighting more for his own peace of mind than her safety.

On the fourth day, Jaime reluctantly apologized for keeping Brienne in camp, and sent her off to scout ahead with Ser Addam Marbrand. And then he spent the entire day waiting and worrying while the column slowly moved west through drifting snow. The mountains were visible ahead at last.

The scouts returned to the column just as the men were finishing setting up camp for the night. Brienne was pink-cheeked from the cold, bright-eyed and laughing with Ser Addam. She looked happy, more relaxed than she’d been since they left Riverrun. Jaime should have been relieved. He’d wondered if Brienne would feel comfortable enough to even talk to Marbrand. They hadn’t exchanged more than a few words except during the wolf attack.

Brienne caught Jaime’s eye, smiled, and disappeared into their tent. Ser Addam followed Jaime into the command tent where their maps were laid out. He spent several minutes telling Jaime all they’d learned. They were less than a week from the Golden Tooth now, even with the snow slowing them down.

“You can send Lady Brienne with me again tomorrow,” Marbrand added.

“You seemed to get along,” Jaime noted, hating the odd, tight feeling in his chest. He picked up one of the lion-headed map markers, set it down again, avoiding Ser Addam’s gaze. What did it matter if Brienne spent more time with the copper-haired knight? She would never be unfaithful and Marbrand knew that Jaime would kill him without hesitation. Lancel still breathed because he was broken, and he’d certainly not intended to seduce the queen.

Ser Addam snorted. “Your lady was as quiet as a mouse unless I asked about you or swordplay. She said she nearly killed you once.”

Jaime’s eyes snapped up to fix on Ser Addam’s smirk. “I’d been chained up close to a year. Ask her about Ser Robin Ryger’s boat next time.”

Marbrand ran a hand through his long, wind-tangled hair. “Perhaps I’ll ask her to spar instead. If it please you, my lord.”

The thought of Brienne, sword in hand and eyes bright with the thrill of competition, did please Jaime. That he was no longer a worthy opponent was bitter. “If it did not please me, do you think that would stop her?”

Ser Addam laughed. “I suspect the lady will do what she likes.”

What Brienne wanted was to spend the evening by the cookfire, listening to Jaime’s captains tell stories about their campaigns, tourneys, and early days as squires. Brienne contributed the stories of her melee victory against Ser Loras Tyrell and the bearpit. Jaime sounded more heroic in her tale. He remembered it as mad bravado followed immediately by absolute certainty that they were both about to die. They stayed up so late that they barely managed to shuck off boots and breeches before crawling under the furs and surrendering to sleep.

Daylight found Brienne riding off with Ser Addam again, but the pair returned by midday. This time they weren’t laughing. They’d found Edmure Tully’s escort to Casterly Rock. Both men and horses had been torn apart and eaten. Of Tully, his wife, and Robb Stark’s widow, there was no sign, but they couldn’t even count the bodies, much less identify them. Everything of value had been looted.

No one wanted to camp anywhere near that cursed place, so they marched until late in the evening, to put as much distance between them and whatever or whoever had killed so many soldiers. Morale was low and Addam asked for extra ale for the men and a later start on the morrow. Though Jaime was eager to leave the Riverlands behind, he agreed.

While the men drank and sang and forgot their troubles for the night, Jaime retreated to his tent, to his bed, to his wife. Brienne had long since gone to bed, so he slipped under the furs and fit himself against her back. She turned over, burying her face in the curve of his throat.

Jaime wrapped her more tightly in his arms. “I didn’t think you knew Edmure well.” Edmure wasn’t the kind of man he’d expected Brienne to mourn.

“I didn’t,” Brienne mumbled against his skin. She sucked in a long, shaky breath. “They’re all gone, Jaime. All the Tullys dead. The Baratheons, Starks, and Arryns nearly wiped out. Where does it end?”

Jaime pressed his lips to her forehead. “You’ll find the Stark girl, keep her safe.” And run away to Braavos or Tarth. He pushed that thought away.

“I sent a raven to Tarth,” she whispered. “There was no answer.”

News from the Stormlands was unreliable, but Tarth had almost certainly been overrun by the Golden Company. “Perhaps his reply will be waiting for us at the Rock.” A lie, but one she needed. Brienne’s father was either a hostage or dead. If Lord Selwyn Tarth was anything like his daughter, he would have fought until the sellswords cut him down.

Brienne shifted against him, legs tangled with his and her hands on his back. “I should have been there. I could have done something.”

She could have died beside her father, or worse. Their time with the Bloody Mummers had only scraped the surface of the depravities men could commit. “I was in the Red Keep the night my father died, and I couldn't save him. I thought I was saving my brother, but I doomed my father. All his years of plotting and scheming, and Tyrion killed him in the privy.”

“Tommen is King, and you are the Lord of Casterly Rock. Isn't that what your father wanted?” Brienne pointed out, drawing back to look at his face.

Jaime huffed indignantly. “And your father wanted nothing more than to see you wed." What if Lord Selwyn had received Brienne’s raven? Would he be happy to know that the Kingslayer had wedded and bedded his innocent, honorable daughter? Considering what he knew of the men Lord Selwyn had judged worthy, Jaime didn’t much care what Brienne’s father thought.

At the moment, Jaime cared more about what he wanted, what he’d been wanting for too long. He wanted to hold and be held, to lose himself in Brienne. Jaime captured her lips with his.

Brienne squeaked in surprise, but didn’t pull away. This time, she returned his kiss almost immediately. She didn't object when his hand covered her breast, or later, when his hand slipped inside her smallclothes. And when Jaime woke in the morning, Brienne was still curled up with him, warm and willing and his.

 


 

The castle at the Golden Tooth was small, but it was a most welcome sight. Lady Alysanne Lefford offered their bedraggled party bread and salt when they arrived at the fortress, her castellan Ser Gerold Farman at her side. The knight did a poor job of covering his confusion and disgust when Jaime introduced his lady wife and his captains. If Brienne was hurt by the man's reaction, she hid it well.

Lady Lefford insisted on dining with them that evening. Her ward Martyn Lannister would join them. Brienne dutifully wore a dress from her trunk, something Lady Stark had ordered. The grey wool somehow made Brienne look paler, but Jaime still preferred it to her wedding gown. He wouldn't have minded if Brienne wore breeches, but he appreciated that she was making an effort in front of his bannermen.

Farman behaved himself during the first two courses, and Lady Lefford was warm and engaged Brienne in conversation while the men talked about the state of the Westerlands. Lady Lefford was scarcely older than Brienne, the niece and only surviving family of Lord Leo Lefford, who’d died in the Battle of the Fords. She relied too much on her castellan, who broke into the conversation often to correct her or embellish a story. Jaime suspected that Ser Gerold would like nothing better than to wed the girl and jump from landed knight to titled lord. The Farmans had always wanted more than their small isle merited.

Once he’d taken Ser Gerold’s measure, Jaime’s attention was largely focused on his cousin Martyn, Kevan’s son and the sole survivor of Lord Karstark's revenge against Jaime. Martyn was to come with them when they left the Golden Tooth. He kept asking Ser Addam Marbrand questions about his time leading Lord Tywin’s outriders.

When Marbrand became more interested in flirting with a buxom serving girl, Martyn turned to Jaime. "I was hoping to train with you, my lord," the boy suggested. "I saw you fight in the melee at Horn Hill before the war."

Jaime tapped the golden hand against the edge of his plate. "I am not quite all I was back then, but you will complete your training. If you want a challenge, my lady wife is an excellent sparring partner."

Martyn chuckled. "I don't fight women, my lord. It wouldn't be a fair fight."

Such arrogance from an untested squire. Martyn was no more than fifteen and could stand to learn some humility. At his age Jaime had been knighted for valor in battle by Ser Arthur Dayne. "Lady Brienne carries Valyrian steel and has slain more men than I have fingers. I suspect she'd have you in the dirt begging to yield in less than a minute."

Martyn’s dark eyes flashed. The Lannister arrogance might have skipped his father, but the boy certainly had it. "If you think Lady Lannister so skilled, my lord, perhaps you ought not risk letting us spar. I’ve been told I am your heir.”

Jaime frowned, stabbing a carrot with his fork. "Only until my lady wife bears a child."

Martyn shook his head, puzzled. "But Ser Gerold said there wouldn’t be children. I mean no offense, my lady."

The boy was young, but not so young that he didn’t realize what he’d said. Either Jaime couldn’t bear to bed his lady wife, or such a masculine woman was surely barren.

Brienne colored, a deep flush that lit her cheeks like a beacon. She stared determinedly down at her plate, fork in hand but not picking up another bite. Lady Genna hadn’t even waited for the wedding to remind Jaime of his duty to provide an heir, and he doubted that Brienne had been spared that lecture either.

Recalling the sharp lessons Ser Arthur had once given him, Jaime directed his gaze at Martyn. “Perhaps it is best that you are coming with us. Ser Gerold seems to have forgotten he is merely a castellan, easily replaced. Or I could simply strip him of his lands and leave him with nothing but his name.”

When Jaime turned toward Ser Gerold, the man had gone pale beneath his patchy gold beard. Farman picked up his wine cup and drank deeply rather than speak. A wise decision, as Jaime thought he might take offense no matter what the man said right now.

Brienne stood abruptly, her face still red. “If you’ll excuse me, my lords, the journey has been tiring.”

The men tried to get to their feet, but Brienne fled the hall before any of them could extricate themselves from the heavy, ancient chairs.

As soon as Brienne had gone, Ser Addam turned to Martyn and said with a low, rumbling laugh, "You would not doubt the likelihood of babes if you'd been sleeping in the tent next to theirs these past weeks."

Jaime wanted to follow Brienne, but he could not let Ser Gerold’s insult to his wife pass unpunished. If he showed weakness with his bannermen so soon, they might think they could control him as they’d once controlled his grandfather. Nor could Jaime set a precedent that allowed anyone to disrespect Brienne. Ordinarily he would chastise Ser Addam as well, but he understood the knight's purpose. Marbrand was publicly testifying that the marriage was not a sham.

Turning his attention to Lady Lefford, who was glaring daggers at Ser Gerold, Jaime set down his fork and pushed back from the table. “My lady, I understand you have not been mistress of this castle for long, and perhaps you inherited the household from your uncle. Now that you have established yourself here, you may wish to revisit certain appointments.” He glanced at Ser Gerold, noting that Martyn was now glaring at Farman as well. “This fortress is of great importance to the Westerlands, and to me as a result. I should hate to think that I might not have House Lefford’s full support, or changes might become necessary.”

Lady Lefford’s knife slipped from her fingers onto her plate, startling her with its clatter. Her eyes were wide. “No, my lord, of course you have my full support.”

Jaime stood, offered her a quick bow. “Then I trust I will not see Ser Gerold for the remainder of my stay here.”

The knight’s mute appeal did not sway Lady Lefford. “No, Lord Jaime, you will not.”

Jaime left them, trusting that his captains would tell him anything of importance discussed in his absence. He needed no help locating his assigned chambers. He’d visited this fortress several times, had even won a battle here early in the war.

The first thing Jaime saw when he opened the door and stepped inside was the large metal bath by the fire, steam rising from its surface. At the near end, Brienne’s arms were stretched out along the rim of the bath, her head resting against the edge. A small purple bruise marked the back of her shoulder, where he'd accidentally bitten her when he came two nights earlier.

The grey gown was thrown unceremoniously over a chair, smallclothes and shift puddled on the stone floor.

“Is there room for me in that tub?” Jaime shoved her gown aside and sat, pulling off boots and socks.

“Did Ser Gerold survive his tongue-lashing?” Brienne asked without turning around.

He grimaced. “I was positively restrained, wench. Ser Gerold still has all his teeth."

“Why wouldn’t he?” Brienne turned to look at him. Her face was puffy and red, blotchy in a way that couldn’t be blamed on the hot water.

"I may have left Connington with fewer teeth. And a broken nose.” Strangely Brienne had never asked Jaime about their meeting after he mentioned it the night he first proposed.

“Please don’t knock out anyone else’s teeth. Half of the Westerlands won't be able to chew their meat before we reach the Rock,” she said wearily, turning back toward the fire.

Jaime unstrapped the golden hand, pulled off his overtunic, and stretched. The tub was too small for two, but he hoped to have a turn in it when she was done. Baths were a luxury they hadn’t been able to indulge while traveling.

“As you wish, although I did suggest that Lady Lefford might reconsider his position. In any case, we won’t be seeing him again.”

She nodded and began methodically soaping her exposed skin, propping her long legs up on the far edge of the bath. Jaime was about to offer to wash her back when she spoke softly.

“When we reach the Rock, I should find a ship in Lannisport.”

“Ser Gerold isn't worth running from, wife," Jaime chided. She'd put up with worse treatment from him; an ambitious and thoughtless castellan shouldn't bother her.

Brienne looked back at him. Her hair was messy, dark and damp. Her eyes shone. “I’m not running away. I have a quest to complete.”

A quest that had very nearly killed her. “Sansa Stark has been gone for more than half a year. If she is in the Vale, she isn’t going anywhere until spring. Why can’t you wait?”

For a moment Brienne gaped at him, then she found her voice. “You said I could go. You said I could fight. Did you mean any of it?”

“Of course I did, but I promised to protect you.” Jaime had scoffed when he’d swept his cloak over her shoulders and promised to bring her under his protection. But Brienne had been hurt, badly and repeatedly, traveling on her own. The thought of her purposefully rushing right back into that kind of danger made him angry.

“I don’t need your protection. I’m going, Jaime." Water sloshed over the side of the tub as Brienne reached for a towel. More splashed out when she rose, steaming and furious, and wrapped the towel around her body.

A better man wouldn’t be hard right now, but Jaime wasn’t a better man. He wanted nothing more than to pull the towel away and fuck Brienne until they forgot why they’d fought. How many arguments had he ended by pushing up Cersei’s skirts, taking her roughly against a wall, letting her scratch and bite him to soothe her anger?

"What if you are with child?" Just one night had produced Joffrey, and Jaime had taken Brienne three times in the past week.

She stepped out of the tub, slipped on the slick stone floor, and slammed one hand down on the edge to catch herself. "There will be no child," she said with certainty, avoiding his gaze.

There was only one way she could know. Moon tea. Jaime would have words with the maester about this. He and Brienne had never talked about children, and he’d always known she planned to leave him, at least for a while. Yet it still felt like a betrayal.

"Let me go, Jaime. I swore I would find her daughters. I’ll come back if I can, and if I can’t, you can set me aside and wed someone else.”

He could take her anger. This quiet resignation, as if she were doing him a favor by leaving him, was unbearable. Jaime's eyes flicked from the bite, to the noose, to the bear's claws, down below the towel to the pale slash he'd left in her thigh. When he looked back up to her determined blue gaze, Jaime could say only one word.

“No.”

 

Chapter Text

“I don’t need your permission.” Brienne stalked over to their trunks, rummaging until she found smallclothes and a sleeping shift.

Arguing with Jaime while she was naked felt like going into battle without armor or shield. Brienne was used to people staring at her, but Jaime had a way of looking at her like she was naked even when she was fully clothed. When she was naked, he looked like he could eat her alive.

By the time Brienne had jerkily pulled the shift over her head and dragged the smallclothes up her legs, Jaime was leaning back in the chair, an insolent smirk on his face. A mask to cover the hurt she’d seen only a minute earlier.

“You don’t need my permission,” Jaime agreed. “But you do need my gold.”

That was not the attack she’d expected. Brienne grasped wildly for a counter. “I’ll earn my passage guarding the cargo.”

He raised an eyebrow. “You think those men will risk hiring you? When I could ban the traders in Lannisport from buying their goods?”

“You said I could go.” Brienne hated the pleading tone in her voice. She should have seen this coming, marrying a man known for breaking his oaths.

Jaime nodded. He looked relaxed, but he wasn’t fooling her. She could see the tension in his arms, in his jaw. “When it was safe. King’s Landing to Gulltown is one thing. Thousands of leagues around Dorne avoiding pirates, reavers and sellswords is another.”

In more than a moon’s turn at sea, the odds were high that any ship she took would encounter trouble. Brienne had given up on the idea, had resigned herself to a lonely winter at Casterly Rock, the strange companion and nominal wife of Lord Jaime Lannister. But since Jaime had begun treating her like a real wife, she’d been dreading the end of their journey west. Surely whatever they had between them would end when Jaime saw his sister, the woman he’d loved his entire life. He had said he was done with her, but Queen Cersei might not be done with him.

“It was safe enough for your sister,” Brienne reminded him. “She can run the castle, be your lady.”

“Is that what you think? That I wed you in her place? That I think of her when I'm fucking you?” Jaime launched himself up out of his chair, stalking toward her. “You are my lady, Brienne. I put that thrice-damned cloak on your shoulders, I said the words, I bedded you. You are my wife.”

Brienne retreated, needing space between them. “You didn't want any of that. But you've done your duty, and you were …” She faltered, lost for words to describe what it meant to her, to see desire in a man’s eyes. In Jaime’s eyes. “You’ve been kind. I thank you for that.”

“Are you thanking me for fucking you? Don’t. The only kindness I did was not taking you so often you'd be too sore to ride a horse,” he answered sharply. “Or did you not notice that Daven’s bride could scarcely sit by the time we left Riverrun?”

“You don’t need to explain,” Brienne protested, noticed the bed behind her and moved away from it. “I know you need an heir.” No one could fault him for fucking his wife, not even Cersei.

"Then why are you drinking moon tea?" Jaime growled. His face was flushed, eyes narrowed in accusation.

“I didn’t ask for it. He offered,” she said weakly. She’d gone to the maester’s tent for a salve for a scrape on her arm. He assumed that she’d come for moon tea, and Brienne had impulsively accepted it. If Jaime got her with child, Brienne could not leave him, even if she found proof of Sansa’s whereabouts. And if she died in the birthing bed, who would be left to fight for Sansa?

“And you drank it,” Jaime said flatly.

"You don't even want a child.” The tea had an herbal, minty flavor, with a bitter aftertaste that had lingered in her mouth for hours. Brienne wasn’t meant to be a mother, didn’t know how to be a mother. Yet the taste made her think about children more than she had in years. Babes she’d seen at Evenfall, strapped to their mothers as they swept floors, cooked. Little ones toddling about the yards and the village chasing the chickens, older children carrying baskets of apples or pushing carts of shellfish through the market. Boys like Podrick, so eager to become knights.

"That isn’t the point, Brienne. You’d rather die than stay with me." The accusation hung between them.

“This isn't about you! I—" I love you. If Brienne spoke those words, Jaime would let her go, she was sure. But she couldn’t. "I need to find Sansa. You know that.” She couldn’t help coming back to that. Every second of every day that Brienne had known Jaime, that had been her quest. Find those girls, keep them safe. He couldn’t ask her to stop now.

Jaime scraped his hand over his face, his teeth grinding. “Yes, I know. Your bloody vow to a dead woman. To find two girls who vanished in King’s Landing and have not been seen in many moons.” He turned his burning gaze on her. “What of your vows to me, wife? Why did you marry me?”

She could tell him, she could end this, but her courage failed again. “You needed me,” she stammered, heat flooding her face. The chamber was too small, Jaime far too close. She could read every twitch of his hand, every glint in his eye. He wouldn’t let this go, and she could not get away. She could steal a horse in the night and ride east, but Jaime would be right behind her.

He took a deep, steadying breath. “I still need you. And you need me. If you go after Sansa Stark alone, you won’t come back, and you know it.”

There was no question of Brienne coming back if she did find Lady Sansa. Casterly Rock was no refuge for her, despite her forced marriage to Tyrion Lannister. Tarth might not be safe either, and the Northern bannermen could not be trusted. The Free Cities were the safest choice. Jaime had known that when they wed, just as she had.

“If I don’t come back, you can marry again.”

Jaime shook his head. “Gods be good, wench, I will not set you aside. Must I tumble you into bed to remind you of that?” His eyes raked up and down her body. “Perhaps I ought to. Bed is the only place where you listen to me.”

There was more truth to that than Brienne cared to admit. She didn’t mind following his lead when Jaime made her feel so good, when he felt so good under her hands. They hadn't even tried any of the wanton, unladylike things Septa Roelle had condemned, but each time Jaime took her the more appealing they seemed.  

Brienne slumped onto the bed. She was too tired to keep arguing. Words had never been easy for her, and Jaime was too quick with them. "I can’t bring her to Casterly Rock, not with your sister there."

Jaime started to speak, stopped. Even he couldn’t dispute that. Queen Cersei was the one who’d insisted that Sansa was part of the plot to kill King Joffrey. Jaime followed Brienne to the bed, and for a moment she thought he might abandon words and try to convince her with kisses instead. Then Jaime dropped to his knees and looked up at her.

“You can’t take the girl anywhere if you are dead, and you will die if you sail off alone. Are you so stubborn you can’t see that, or do you not care if you die? Because I bloody well care.”

Jaime Lannister, on his knees, begging her not to go was difficult to resist. But if Brienne gave in now, she might be shackled to the Rock for the rest of her life, playing the dutiful wife to a man she loved in ways she scarcely understood. And all the while his sister would be just down the corridor, the woman who had owned Jaime’s heart since the moment they were born.

It would be easier to die all at once instead of a little each day. And Brienne could do it without setting foot on a ship, without even reaching Casterly Rock. “If you cared for me, you wouldn’t expect me to sit at your side while your sister sits at the other, wondering which of our beds you’ll go to that night.”

She watched his face, watched frustration turn to shock, and then he laughed. Jaime rocked back on his heels. “Stupid, stubborn wench,” he muttered. “There's no choice.”

Brienne’s face burned, her hands tingled, her chest so tight she could scarcely breathe. She couldn’t think, couldn’t stop hearing that laugh. It joined the jeering chorus in her head, the men who scorned her, the women who mocked her, both who pitied her.

Jaime rose to his feet. “Look at me.”

The voice of command made her look up. She couldn’t read his eyes with the fire behind him, a halo of warm golden light.

“You are my wife.” Jaime pulled his tunic over his head. “I will seek your bed, Brienne. Every night you will have me, even if I must follow you on your foolish quest.” He smirked. “And if you never want a child, we’ll just bash young Martyn around in the yard until he learns some respect.”

“You’ll do that anyway,” Brienne protested, grateful for something to say. She could not respond to the rest, nor ignore that Jaime was unlacing his breeches.

He shrugged, stepped out of his breeches. “Say you’ll stay.” And suddenly the commander was gone, his words not an order but a plea.

Jaime burned too brightly, and one day he would burn her up like a moth drawn to a flame, but she couldn’t resist him. The words left her as easily as breathing. “I’ll stay.”

Jaime smiled, leaned in slowly, so Brienne could turn away if she wanted. But she didn't, and he kissed her healing cheek, her trembling mouth. Jaime’s hand and stump moved up her thighs, pushing up her shift. His lips fell to her neck, and Brienne lifted herself up to work the shift up over her hips, helped him pull it over her head.

She was still big and ugly and awkward, unsuited to be Lady of Casterly Rock or Lady of Tarth. But with Jaime coaxing her back against the bed, scattering wet, lingering kisses across her skin, the heat of his gaze and the surety with which he touched her were enough. There was so little pleasure in this world, and only one man she trusted to see her and touch her like this.

With cool sheets at her back and Jaime warm above her, Brienne gave herself over to the flood of sensations. His beard and soft hair tickling her skin. Fingertips stroking the back of her calf or the inside of her wrist. His tongue trailing along her hipbone. Words whispered against her throat, so softly she felt more than heard them. Brienne’s entire body was hot and humming, exposed, untethered.

She reached down to where Jaime was teasing her breast with his tongue. She ran one hand through his hair and tugged it gently. “Come here.” Her mouth was dry, her voice rough. She pulled at his shoulders, bringing him up to her until she could kiss him again.

The weight of Jaime’s body on hers, his tongue in her mouth, was better. Brienne shuddered as he ground down against her damp smallclothes, pleasure coiling inside her. Gods, that was good, his chest hair scratching her breasts, his arms around her.

She moaned into his mouth as he kissed her again. Brienne's hands roamed his back, down to the dimples at the base of his spine, lower to cup his arse and draw him against her so hard she cried out and he bit down on her lower lip.

Jaime broke away from their kiss, his breathing ragged, sucked a path down her throat while his hand skimmed along her belly down to her smallclothes, dipping inside just long enough to tease her before starting to yank them down.

Impatient, Brienne started to help him, but he slapped her hand away with a growl. Jaime moved down her body, dragging her smallclothes down. “This.” He kissed her breast. “Is not.” His tongue licked down her belly. “Duty.” He nipped at her thigh, pushing her smallclothes off one foot. Crouched between her knees, Jaime hooked her leg over his shoulder.

Brienne shook with nerves, uncertain what he intended to do, as she watched his dark eyes and feral grin. A face she would fear on the battlefield. Jaime had been good to her on their wedding night, even better since, but this was something else entirely.

Deliberately, his eyes never leaving hers, Jaime lowered his head and licked her cunt.

A strangled cry burst from her throat, but Jaime didn’t stop. Brienne had heard whispers of such things, but she’d never truly believed a man would want to do this. The way Jaime was looking at her was too much, like he wanted nothing more than to devour her. Pleasure built like a storm surge, fast and dark and overwhelming. She could hear herself moaning, but was helpless to stop or quiet herself at all.

Then Jaime’s fingers were inside her and his arm wrapped around her thigh, futilely trying to keep her in place as she bucked against his hand. She needed to touch him, locked her fingers around his forearm, felt him still suddenly, breathing hard against her flesh, stranding her on the edge.

“Please,” Brienne begged, risked looking at him. His eyes were darker than she’d ever seen.

And then Jaime’s lips closed over her, his fingers thrusting deep, and Brienne cried out again, head thrown back, shaking as pleasure broke over her, washed through her. She was breathless, boneless as she felt Jaime withdraw.

Brienne heard a rustle of cloth, then Jaime pressed forward, his body heavy atop her again, kissing her, his lips and beard wet with her. He tasted musky and slightly bitter and she didn’t care as long as he did not stop kissing her.

"I want you," Jaime whispered against her mouth, and she shivered from his rough voice and the echoes of her peak. "I need you," soft against her ear. He smiled as he came back to her mouth, kissed her with a tenderness utterly at odds with the way he'd just taken her.  

Brienne opened her eyes as he broke the kiss, watched Jaime’s face as he pushed inside her and held still, a mix of relief and want in his eyes. Nothing else felt like this, the moment when he filled her, complete and close and utterly hers. Brienne had been so nervous about pain the first time, but now she shivered with the pleasure of it. She shifted her legs to hold his weight better, touched his shoulders, gripped his straining arms where he braced himself above her.

They kissed again, slow and deep, as they moved together. Brienne knew this rhythm, waves rushing in and drawing back, a rising tide. Muscles tensed and flexed, his breath heated her skin, his sweat mingled with hers. She tried clenching her muscles around him, and Jaime bit down on her shoulder, breath stuttering. “Not fair,” he whispered, and dragged her leg up over his shoulder again.

The change of angle drove him deeper, and Brienne moaned. Her hands slid over him, muscles rippling under slick skin, to hold him, to hold on. Panted breaths mingled as they kissed, her heart pounding, dizzy as Jaime thrust faster, harder until she came undone.

Brienne clung to him as he slowed his frantic pace, tried to pull back. Even in the loose, blurry haze of her release, she understood he meant to spill in the blankets or on her belly. Tommen was nine, and the queen could not ask for moon tea. Jaime must have done this many times.

Brienne still feared the birthing bed. She could not see herself as a mother. And yet she held Jaime fast, saw the confusion in his eyes give way to something beautiful and hopeful. On the morrow she might drink the tea, but for tonight she could bear the possibility. He groaned, thrust thrice more and spilled inside her, every twitch of his cock making her shudder.

Jaime was hot and heavy and slick against her chest, and Brienne couldn’t move. She didn’t care. She didn’t want to move unless it was to do that again. To fuck him again. Jaime. To fuck Jaime again. Brienne was surprised every time he reached for her, might always be surprised that he wanted her, even while his cock was softening inside her and his face was tucked against the side of her neck.

Jaime kissed her neck, her shoulder, slowly disentangled himself from her embrace. He flopped over onto his side, his hand resting on her belly, his breathing slowing gradually. He usually fell asleep quickly, but he was staring at her, his fingers drawing random patterns on her skin.

Brienne closed her eyes for a moment, but she could still feel his gaze. “Why did you stop? Earlier?”

Jaime raised an eyebrow. “Licking you? Fucking you with my hand?” He smirked at the flush that brightened her already heated face. He raised his right arm off the bed, glanced down at it with a shrug. “You grabbed my stump.”

Stupid, how hard she'd grabbed him. Brienne was no stranger to the varied sensation in scars. Her cheek was sensitive to heat and cold, while the places the bear had slashed were totally numb. "I'm sorry, I wasn't thinking." Brienne bent to brush a kiss on his scarred wrist.

When she looked up, Jaime was staring at her. She shouldn't have done that. He’d kissed her cheek, but this must be different somehow. Brienne felt pinned by his gaze, naked and too aware of her disheveled hair, blotchy skin, heavy thighs.

And then Jaime dragged her against him, kissed her deeply. When he released her, he was smiling. "To think I almost listened to Daven, almost picked a Bracken girl before I talked to you."

"Which one?" Brienne was still breathless from his kiss, didn't really want to think about who Jaime might have wed instead of her, but her curiosity got the better of her. She’d spent time with most of those maids, a gossipy, giggly group who had largely ignored her until she was betrothed.

He huffed a laugh. "I don't remember. Dark hair, big teats. He pointed her out once. I think he'd already had her." Jaime wriggled in closer, fitting his knee between hers. "I wish I was a younger man," he mumbled, nuzzling her neck.

Brienne relaxed into his embrace. "Six and thirty isn't old," she reminded him, combing her fingers through his damp hair. There were threads of silver mixed with the gold, particularly around his temples and in his beard, but after all he’d been through that was hardly a surprise. She’d once known a man on Tarth who’d survived alone at sea for more than a moon’s turn after his ship sank. He was not yet thirty and his hair had turned white as snow.

Jaime’s hand came up to cup her breast. "If I was your age, I could probably fuck you again in a few minutes. Teach you to ride me, so my thrice-damned arm wouldn’t give out." He yawned, his hand sliding down to rest on her hip.

That act Brienne had seen often among both Renly’s and Robb’s men. The camp followers didn’t seem to care about doing that outside the tents, their skirts draped over the men’s laps while their breasts spilled out of unlaced bodices. The casual wantonness of it had always made her look away. But if Jaime wanted that, in the privacy of their bed… “We could try sometime, if you wanted,” she offered.

Brienne could feel his smile against her skin. “What happened to my dour, disapproving wench?” Jaime yawned again.

He was a beast, drunken and filthy and vicious, the first time Brienne had seen him. No better than Stannis Baratheon, she'd thought at the time, and likely worse. Time and experience both bitter and sweet had proven her wrong.

"She met you."

 

Chapter Text

On the last day of their trek west, the Lannister host broke camp just after dawn. As had been their habit since Oxcross, Jaime and Brienne rode at the head of the column, slightly apart from the crimson mass of men, wagons, and horses, with only the outriders and scouts ahead of them. Their breath billowed out before them in the sharp, cold air, but it was no longer bitterly cold as it had been in the mountains between the Golden Tooth and Sarsfield.

As the sun crossed the sky, the men marched faster in anticipation of a feast that night and beds safe behind castle walls. As they approached each rise, Brienne urged her horse ahead, seeking her first glimpse of Casterly Rock.

Late in the afternoon, after yet another disappointment, she asked, "How much farther?"

Jaime squinted ahead, shrugged. It had been at least a decade since he’d approached Casterly Rock from the River Road. Possibly as long ago as his pointless trip to meet Lysa Arryn, when he’d paid far more attention to the Blackfish. "These hills all look the same to me. Are you hoping to arrive tonight, or for one more night in our tent?"

Brienne continued staring into the west, as if the castle’s towers would suddenly appear if she looked away. “I don’t mind the tent.”

“Me neither.” In the mountains, the cold had stolen their breath and seeped into their bones until they retreated beneath a pile of furs to sleep. Deep in the night when their bedding had formed a warm cocoon, they’d often sought each other’s touch. For a while, Jaime could forget what awaited him at the end of this road.

But Brienne would not let him forget for long. Despite being her father’s heir, Brienne had been taught little of politics. Lord Selwyn had allowed his daughter to train in combat, but she'd also learned to manage a household, how to sew and dance and sing, though never well enough for her horrid septa. When her father sat in his high seat hearing the concerns and grievances of his bannermen and smallfolk, that door was closed to her. A role he’d thought more fitting for her lord husband, no doubt.

Brienne had asked questions often as they rode during the day, especially when they were out of earshot of the soldiers. Answers had come surprisingly easily to Jaime’s lips when her queries concerned Lannister bannermen, their relationships with other Great Houses, the goods produced by various Houses and villages. He’d spent his childhood avoiding lessons, daydreaming while his father sternly dealt with the men under his control, yet somehow he knew much more than he'd thought.

More personal questions Brienne had saved for the dozing darkness after they fucked, when they were reduced to warm skin and soft voices and she couldn’t see his face. Brienne asked about Tommen, Tyrion, and even Cersei occasionally. In turn Jaime asked about her family, her training, and eventually about Hunt. Hanging had been too good for Hunt, but the hedgeknight was food for crows, and Jaime was the one who’d vowed to take Brienne as his wife, pledged her his love.

His wife, sitting tall and proud on her horse, the wind whipping her pale hair and snatching at the crimson cloak streaming down her back. His love.

That was not yet a comfortable thought, but it had grown from a whisper in the back of Jaime’s mind until it filled him. He could not remember falling in love as a child. His love for Cersei had always been there, well before their bodies knew lust and pleasure.

Loving Brienne was so different he hadn’t understood it for a long time. When Jaime began to love her was unimportant, she’d been woven into the fabric of his life so gradually that he hadn’t noticed it happening until one day it was simply there, plain as the seven-pointed star in the mosaic floor of the Great Sept. He loved Brienne when she and Ser Addam sparred in the middle of camp one evening and she ended it with her boot on Marbrand’s chest, her sword at his throat. He loved Brienne at Sarsfield, where Brienne had worn tunic and breeches to dinner and traded stories about Lord Randyll Tarly with Ser Melwyn Sarsfield. He loved Brienne when she touched him, all of him, like Jaime wasn’t missing the best part of him.

Brienne looked back at him, smiled with her horsey, crooked teeth, windburned face, and deep blue eyes. “One more hill,” she said, and raced away west, a streak of red against the snow.

Jaime gave chase, catching up just as they crested the next hill. Brienne reined up abruptly, staring into the distance. Jaime tugged his reins to stop and followed her gaze.

From afar, Casterly Rock looked like any other castle, towers huddled against the rocky cliffs, with a yawning black mouth to mark its entrance. It looked like something a child might build out of beach sand, but Jaime knew better. The Rock was a fortress cut deep into the cliffs.

"It's big," Brienne said, frowning.

Jaime laughed. She had no idea how immense it truly was. "We won’t stay forever,” he reminded her. As soon as Tarly got King’s Landing under control, they would travel back along the Gold Road, without Cersei. Tommen should have never left the Red Keep.

Brienne turned and looked at him, determined but with a hint of sadness. “And then I’ll find Sansa.”

Part of him hoped that Brienne would be with child by the time they reached King’s Landing, if only so she would have to wait. He’d made a point of kissing her each morning, embarrassing her as there was always someone around to see them, and he hadn’t tasted moon tea on her lips since before Sarsfield.

Jaime offered her a smile he hoped was comforting. "Let's go home, wife.”

 


 

Casterly Rock was more than just a fortress. The maesters and stewards both had warned Jaime from early childhood that the tunnels of the castle formed a vast maze. He must be careful in his explorations, lest he disappear into that maze, never to return.

Jaime had, of course, ignored them. By the time he was ten, he thought he knew every passage, every shortcut and hideaway. He took advantage of them now, racing with his wife from their favorite sparring ground in a walled garden. Brienne laughed as Jaime pulled her suddenly into an alcove, and he smothered that laugh with a kiss. They barely noticed when a pair of stewards passed by in the corridor.

They were sweaty and flushed, hearts racing, not caring a whit that both would have bruises tomorrow. When Jaime pulled away, grabbing her hand in his, Brienne didn't resist. They'd fought until the sun set, until Jaime tripped her, dropped to straddle her with a blunted blade at her throat.

The breathless tone of her yield had made Jaime toss his sword away and kiss his wife hungrily. He had hoped to finish their sparring in the bathhouse, but Brienne had insisted they didn’t have time for more than a quick wash in their separate chambers. They had guests from Kayce and were expected for dinner shortly. Lord and Lady Lannister would already be late, disheveled and dirty as they were.

“Go wash, I’ll meet you in the feast hall,” she suggested, far more concerned than he with making their guests wait.

“I’ll have a cask of Arbor gold sent up. Marbrand in his cups is entertaining enough that Kenning will scarcely notice we are absent,” he countered, taking her hand again to lead her down the dim corridor.

Jaime would bloody well make time, just as soon as he remembered which passage would bring them out into the corridor near Brienne's chambers. They all looked the same, but Jaime had found as a child that it was easier to navigate by smell. In summer the gardens perfumed the nearby chambers and corridors. The kitchens wafted tempting aromas of meat and baking bread. Deep below, the air smelled of briny minerals and salt.

Just now the dirty, sweaty smell of their bodies was distracting him. If the bathhouse wasn’t halfway across the Rock, he’d be tempted to throw his wife over his shoulder and carry her there regardless of who waited for them. Lord Kenning could wait all night; Jaime still wouldn’t have the soldiers Kenning wanted to defend Kayce and Feastfires against the Ironborn.

“I’ll wear that dress you like,” Brienne offered. “We can plead exhaustion and leave before the cakes are served.”

Jaime growled and spun around to press her against the cool stone wall. The dress he liked was unremarkable, except that it offered a tempting peek of Brienne’s freckled breasts and lacked the copious underskirts most ladies’ gowns had. Jaime didn’t even need to take it off to fuck her. “That, love, is not helping.”

Brienne’s blue eyes went wide, and her breath caught. She looked ready to flee.

Jaime frowned, then swallowed hard, his mind catching up to his mouth. He attempted a smile, poorly from the wary expression on her face. “That is certainly not how I meant to say that.”

“You don’t — I —” Brienne stuttered and stammered and, though Jaime was used to that by now, he hadn’t a clue what she meant to say.

He took a step back, giving her room to move, to breathe. "I love you," Jaime said softly, then again, stronger. "I love you."

Half a hundred emotions flitted over her face in the next few heartbeats, while Jaime waited for her response. Finally Brienne took his hand and tugged him down the corridor, back the way they’d come.

“Wench, we’re going the wrong way,” he protested.

“No, we’re not.”

Jaime’s confusion persisted until they passed an equally confused steward. “Please tell Lord Kenning that we have been unavoidably detained, but Lord Jaime will see him in the morning. Ser Damion and Lady Shiera will take our place at dinner,” Brienne told the man, who nodded curtly, bowed, and hurried away toward the feast hall. Ser Damion Lannister, a distant cousin and Casterly Rock’s castellan, and his wife Lady Shiera seemed utterly mystified by Brienne, when they'd met her, and that had not changed in the week since they'd arrived at the Rock.

“Where are we going?” Jaime finally asked. Brienne did not know her way around the Rock as he did, and he wondered if she even knew where this passage led.

She glanced back over her shoulder, and the heat of her gaze nearly knocked him down. “I thought you wanted a bath.”

Jaime swallowed hard. Gods, he loved this woman. He would tell her a thousand times a day if it made her look at him like that every time. To the right, a stairwell turned swiftly down into the darkness. “This way,” he urged, not letting go of her hand as they hurried down the stairs, their steps echoing against the worn stone.

Later, when Jaime’s face was buried against her throat, steaming water making them slightly buoyant as they clung to each other, the stone edge of the bath digging into his shoulder blades, he finally understood what Brienne had been whispering against his skin, into his mouth, into his ear, since she’d come to him in the bath. I love you.

 



The ship from King’s Landing arrived at dawn, slipping into the Rock’s deserted hidden harbor. Jaime had ordered all other ships to leave the previous day, under the pretense of an outbreak of bloody flux on another vessel. That, thankfully, was only a ruse.

He’d received word of the ship’s imminent arrival only the previous morning, giving the stewards and maids one day to prepare rooms for the dowager queen, the king, and the few servants they’d trusted enough to bring with them. When Cersei came down the gangway in her black mourning gown, her face lovely and pale beneath a black cowl, Jaime saw her shock at finding him there.

Cersei recovered quickly, a sweet, altogether false smile on her face. She looked older, but Jaime knew firsthand what confinement could do to a person. Qyburn was with her, along with her handmaidens and a young septa whose loveliness might have inspired statues of the Maiden.

Tommen, slightly taller and less round of face, followed behind, two pages and a pair of Kingsguard at his back. One of the pages carried a large covered wire cage. Judging from the loud mewling protests emanating from it, it seemed that the king had insisted upon bringing his kittens. But they wouldn’t be kittens now. Jaime had been gone for nearly half a year.

The other page approached Jaime with a quick bow. “M’lord.”

“Have the queen’s things taken to her old chambers. The king may have my old rooms. The stewards in the castle will be able to direct you,” Jaime ordered.

Cersei’s eyebrows rose. “Surely the king should take our lord father’s chambers. I can stay close to him in Mother’s rooms.” To anyone else that might have seemed a gentle rebuke, but Jaime heard the order in it.

“Those rooms are taken, sister. I am the lord here now,” Jaime corrected her, then offered her his arm. There had been no way to send word to her. She knew nothing that had happened since Lady Genna had written to tell her that Jaime had arrived safely at Riverrun.

“Surely you can move, brother. The king has need, and you are, after all, accustomed to simpler quarters.” Her fingernails were digging into his upper arm, though no one else would notice it. For whose benefit was this show? The septa, he thought, though why she’d brought the woman at all was a mystery. A single septa was no hostage if it came to that.

They made their way slowly up the winding passages. There was a faster route, but the stairs were steep and Jaime had slept little the previous night. He didn’t trust his own feet to manage the climb.

Jaime had known this day was coming since before they left Riverrun, but he’d still found himself tossing and turning, sleepless until well into the night. Finally Brienne had turned to him and offered herself as a distraction. A very pleasant distraction indeed, and Jaime had finally fallen asleep holding her. She was still asleep in their bed far above. She’d offered to come to the harbor with him, but Jaime needed to do this alone.

“The rooms are fully occupied, Cersei. You’ll find your old chambers comfortable enough for now.”

“Occupied?” She laughed. “I trust you haven’t installed a mistress here, Jaime. That did not end well for Grandfather.”

“No, Cersei, Mother’s rooms now belong to my lady wife.” He said it as simply as he could, without any indication that he thought the knowledge might wound her. Too many curious ears surrounded them.

“Your wife?” Her hand was a claw around Jaime’s arm, her nails biting into his flesh. He’d have bruises, but he supposed that was her intent. “What unexpected news. I recall you refusing to wed, several times.”

“I was dismissed from the Kingsguard. You knew that. Aunt Genna pointed out it was past time for me to wed, so I did.” The bland courtesy of this conversation was difficult, but Jaime knew that any version taking place behind closed doors might involve Cersei hitting him, screaming at him, or at the very least sneering that his maiming had left him few options.

“Father should have enlisted Aunt Genna sooner, if she was so persuasive. Tell me, who has the honor of being Lady of Casterly Rock? When I set sail, that was my title.”

Ah, there it was. She was angry he’d taken back the Rock, taken her power away as Lady of the Westerlands. Jaime himself had little to do with it.

"Lady Brienne of Tarth. We were wed alongside cousin Daven and Fair Walda Frey."

Cersei was quiet for a long time, until they'd nearly reached the living quarters. "Was I so easily replaced, that a beast in chain mail would do?" There was the slightest tremor in her voice, beneath the venomous words, delivered as placidly as if she were asking about the evening's dinner menu.

Jaime bristled at ‘beast,’ struck back. "As I was replaced by a corpse animated by blood magic?"

"You could have come, Jaime. You could have been there, even if you couldn’t fight."

"I know," Jaime admitted. "I was angry." That was an understatement. He’d been bitter and furious, a fire lit within him and stoked with every idle thought of her writhing beneath his cousin or the Kettleblacks.

"You abandoned us."

Jaime had no defense for that. In the end, he’d chosen to ignore her summons, let someone else defend his sister and lover, while he faced another undead corpse for another woman. Catelyn Stark at the head of a band of vigilantes sounded like a tale, not the living nightmare it had been. He and Brienne had decided not to tell anyone about Lady Stark’s end. Few would believe them.

"I'm here now,” he reminded her.

Now Cersei did look at him, her closely cropped hair curling around her face. "You're happy.” In her mouth it sounded like an accusation, something he didn’t deserve.

"I am." That part was easy. Coming home, ruling, that was difficult and often unpleasant, but at the end of the day, Jaime wasn’t alone. Though Brienne had her own chambers, most evenings found her in Jaime’s solar, and most nights in his bed. She was comrade, confidante, and comfort to him, as well as his lover.

Cersei's eyes narrowed. "You love her."

Jaime opened his mouth to say ‘no.’ How could he love anyone but his sister? We belong to each other. We are one soul in two bodies. The secret motto of their youth, their hidden trysts. Perhaps if they said it often enough, it might be true. But it wasn’t, not the way Cersei wanted it to be, and it never had been. "I do love her."

He stopped beside a heavy, familiar wooden door. "Your rooms, sister."

Cersei dropped his arm and went into her chambers, her ladies following her. She did not even glance back, did not say goodbye. The door closed behind them.

Jaime fell into step with Tommen. They had much to talk about, and time to get to know each other better. The boy’s chambers were a good distance from Cersei’s, the first step in reducing her influence on the king. Jaime hoped the distance would work better for them than it had for him and Cersei. Jaime loved his sister, he always would, but her quest for power had already claimed two of their children. He would do whatever it took to keep their last child alive. Even though it meant leaving Cersei behind.

Once they returned to the Red Keep, Jaime would convince Tommen to officially pardon Sansa Stark. Then Brienne could sail to Gulltown, with soldiers he trusted. With Jaime if he felt the king was well protected, if she would wait for spring. If the Stark girl was there, if she accepted their protection, she could go to Lannisport, where his uncle Gerion had kept a small manse. She would be safer in King’s Landing, perhaps in the house Tyrion had kept for his mistress, but Jaime doubted she would want that. As long as Sansa Stark didn’t run away across the Narrow Sea and take his wife with her, Jaime didn’t care where she went.

Tommen kept up a steady stream of chatter as they walked the corridors, telling Jaime about his cats’ adventures on the ship, how they’d killed all the rats and how the sailors had tried to keep Ser Pounce until Tommen had threatened to have them all hanged. The sailors had laughed at him, which his mother hadn’t liked, but Tommen didn’t care because they gave back the cat.

Tommen was a sweet boy. Myrcella had been the same. Where had that come from? Not from Cersei, and not from him. As Jaime showed the boy king the chambers where Jaime had slept at his age, he was pulled from his thoughts by a knock at the door.

The solemn young Kingsguard who’d been shadowing them opened the door, admitting Brienne. “Your Grace,” she said with a bow.

Tommen moved closer to Jaime, watched Brienne warily. She wore soft grey breeches that skimmed lightly over her legs, still heavily muscled, but her body was slightly softer, rounder since she’d had the luxury of enough food and a horse to ride, as she hadn’t always in the moons she traveled without him. Her blue tunic made her eyes look even bluer, but it was the arms embroidered on her chest that made Jaime smile. Instead of the rose and azure, suns and crescent moons of House Tarth, Brienne had replaced the rose quarters with crimson, gold lions instead of suns. One azure quarter held a white crescent moon, the other a yellow sun.

Jaime rested his hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Your Grace, may I introduce you to my lady wife, your aunt, Lady Brienne Lannister of Tarth.”

Tommen relaxed just a bit under Jaime’s hand, remembered his courtesies enough to acknowledge her with a quiet, “My lady.”

Brienne seemed nervous too, but she was getting better at hiding it, pushing past it. “My apologies for the interruption, Your Grace. You must be tired from your journey. I only wished to ask if you might like a bit of a demonstration this afternoon. Your uncle has told me that you wanted to learn to fight and joust.”

The young boy’s face lit up at that. “I do,” he agreed, but then his face fell. “Mother will not allow it.”

Jaime released Tommen’s shoulder. “Lady Brienne has been teaching Martyn how to wield a morningstar, and we have several knights here fond of the joust. Perhaps we can convince your mother in time.”

Tommen nodded uncertainly. “I’ve never seen a lady fight,” he said.

Brienne smiled at him, and he returned her smile hesitantly. “Today you shall. Until then, I will leave you so you may rest. Good day, Your Grace.”

“I will take my leave as well,” Jaime added, following his wife out the door. Behind them, he could hear Tommen talking excitedly at his guard.

They walked in silence for a minute before Brienne asked, “Was Queen Cersei well?”

Jaime glanced at her, saw the concern in her eyes. “I wouldn’t drink anything she offered you.”

Brienne grimaced. “I’m sorry, Jaime.”

“Don’t be. They are safe, and you will sleep in my chambers for now. We can ask for no better than that.” He had not shared any of the dark thoughts that had crept through his mind these past weeks. The ship had sunk. Cersei had killed Tommen and run to Essos. They’d been sold to the Dragon Queen or captured by sellswords. They’d disembarked in Oldtown and disappeared.

He still feared that something would go wrong. Cersei would fight them, when she learned their plans. But Jaime would fight too. He might not be Kingsguard anymore, but he would protect his son, even from her. And someday the boy would stand on his own, ruler of seven kingdoms more vast than he could truly understand. If he wanted that at all, which Jaime suspected he didn't.

Brienne tugged him into a side passage and kissed Jaime quickly, sweetly. The press of her body against his was exactly the comfort he needed.

Jaime would protect her, too, and their children, if and when they came. Here, on the road, in the Red Keep, Gulltown, wherever she went, he would follow, as he followed her now, through the corridors of Casterly Rock.