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The Warrior

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  "Where will we lodge tonight?" he asks her, the low sun burning red across his face. She eyed him warily as she scooped the water up, fingers grazing grass of the bank.

  "A farm," she replies. “Abandoned, so there's little chance of us being freshly fed tonight. We must use our provisions." She mounts her horse and Jaime does not reply. They have been silent much of the way thus far; he’s watched her, mostly. Her manner is disjointed and exhausted. Much different from the headstrong bitch who swore to bring him to King's Landing. It is enough to make him suspicious, but he cannot imagine why the woman would betray him; she carried his sword, still.

  At twilight the two arrived at Brienne's farm. Jaime's legs hurt from the slow ride, though by all reason they shouldn’t have. He thought to speak several times, but this new strangeness about her kept him silent. He wanted to ask her about the Hound, about the Stark girl, about her journey, about the ragged pink scar on her cheek. The old Brienne would have given curt, honest answers. This new Brienne... he isn't so sure. As they entered the shabby farmhouse the smell of shit and decay suffused their noses. Jaime staggered back from the door.

  "It was the pig," Brienne says dully, pointing to a mess of a corpse on the floor in front of the hearth. It had decomposed since its death but the tail gave it away as a pig, yes. Brienne unlatched all the windows to air the room, the low pinks and purples of the sky giving little light to the kitchen.

  "Help me move it out," she said. Jaime obliged awkwardly, his grip unsteady around the creature's leg.

  "Couldn't we stay somewhere else? A place that doesn't smell quite so horrific?" he asked after the pig was yards away in the field and the room still smelled awful.

  "No," she said, removing her gauntlets. Jaime watched her thick hands work, nicks and cuts and callouses kissing each finger. He used to be shocked at how ugly she was, but he supposed familiarity inspired a new fondness for her appearance. Since Raventree each new glance towards her was carefully catalogued for changes and injuries. After a few hours be began to imagine which angles would make her pretty, purely for amusement. He had decided on two so far, and wanted to tease her with them. He pictured her blushes and dismissals, and an endearing, worried glance in a mirror. Yes, turn your jaw just like that, see how lovely you are? She is a warrior, yes, but still a maid.

  She began to remove her armor, placing it on the wide wooden table in front of her. Jaime followed suit. There was a cold wind blowing through the farmer's house, taking the last of the light with it. Brienne, down to a tunic and breeches, unclasped her belt and dropped it unceremoniously on top of the pile that was the rest of her garments.

  Jaime struggles. Once, he would have asked her for help, and she would have given it to him.

  She thought me her friend, he thinks.

  They ate salted meat and old carrots by candlelight. Jaime talks a little about King Tommen, about Raventree, about the rumor of dragons. Brienne listens but doesn't respond. He watches her hands, a little, as she eats. They are large and strong but not mannish. On a different person they could be graceful.

  "Where do we sleep?" he asks after darkness has taken the warmth and most of the foul smells from the room.

  She eyes him, pulling her cloak around her. Her look is bright, blue.

  "There is a feather-bed and one pallet on the floor in the next room," she says quietly. "I shall light a fire for the night. Choose whichever you prefer." The way her mouth bends around the words sends a pang of memory through Jaime. He thinks that he may have missed her. One cheek is cut too close to the bone; the other is scarred and brutal. They glow and shift in the night as she rises to fetch firewood. Jaime pulls his shirt close and stands to close the windows. It is winter; it may snow tonight in the Riverlands. Latches in place, he follows Brienne to the next room and watches her start the fire in the hearth. The featherbed is not large, but it looks comfortable enough. The pallet lay in the corner next to the bed, filthy and worn.

  "Neither of us should have to take that," Jaime says disdainfully. "The pig probably slept there."

  Warm firelight cast Brienne as a silhouette. "If you find it distasteful, I will sleep on it," she says coolly. Jaime grimaces; stubborn girl.

  "The bed is large enough for us both. It will be warmer with two people," Jaime says sitting on it and leaning back against the wall. "Do not fear, my lady. I will not make you a dishonorable woman this night. I'll likely end up snoring into your back. Feel free to kick me."

  Brienne is silent, her shirt and breeches hanging loosely about her. The woman’s gaze is fierce, almost angry. Before, Jaime would have smirked and mocked her.

  She crosses the room and lies on the bed next to Jaime, removing her shoes and curling her knees to her breast. Brienne’s back is to Jaime and he stares at the ceiling, listening to her breathe. Jaime wants to ask her again. About the Hound, about the Stark girl, about the gash on her cheek, about the finality of her silence and growing alarm that Jaime feels.

  "Brienne," he whispers urgently, after the fire had crackled endlessly and he sat, lonely, trying to ask. She doesn't answer.

*

  She didn't wake him up, which was the first surprise. His eyes opened and he was alone on the bed, the harsh sunlight creeping toward his knees. He could hear Brienne sharpening her sword at the table in the other room, but felt no compulsion to move. He thought of things to do or say: Go to her and ask after breakfast. Go to her and ask where they are really going, go to her and ask when they will leave. Go to her and put on his armor, prepare to leave her. Prepare to go with her. Call to her from the bed.
Instead he lay there for ages, drifting in and out of sleep. Brienne never came to him, so he rose with some difficulty after another hour and went to see her, cold feet on the floor. Her grip on the whetstone in her hand tightened slightly, the rock looming an inch beside the dagger she held between her legs. The smell of rot lingered in the room

"Are we leaving?" Jaime asked, leaning against the doorjamb.

“I don’t know,” Brienne grunts, not looking up.

Jaime is struck by a thought: The Hound is nothing but a tale.

“And your Lady Sansa?”

Brienne doesn’t reply.

*

  Let her kill me if she must, Jaime thinks as he sits on the bed. He clenches and unclenches his left hand, willing it to be strong. It  had been hours since Brienne went off to find food from the river. It was strange, this. He is torn between going forward and--- what?

  By all rights I should just leave the lying wench, he thought viciously, curling his fingers and thumb into a furious fist. It hurt; his left hand would never have the natural strength of his right. He was uneasy. He could not sharpen his sword, build a fire, hunt or do anything useful besides feed the horses. Useless and weak again, caught in this very small house with no chance for survival should anything at all happen (and don’t they always?).

  He heard a stomping at the door and for a second he wondered if it was some accomplice taking advantage of the trap: the unarmed, unarmored Kingslayer stuck in a very small house. Brienne had gone to retrieve the killer, or to send him a message. Jaime would be dead within minutes, with any luck. There were too many invested in his protracted suffering for comfort.

  “Ser Jaime, I have brought trout for us,” she called, and he relaxed. She took some time to cook up the fish over the fire as Jaime sat near, watching. He offered to help, but Brienne simply shook her head.

  “Where are you taking me?” Jaime asked as they ate.

  Brienne stared at her plate and picked a bone out of the meat. “By Duskendale,” she answered.

  “Why Duskendale? Why haven’t we left yet?” he asked again, lightly. “Traveling by moonlight, then? Much safer in the winter, and I hear there’s wolves out in the woods. Real ones, with fangs and claws and a love of a man’s flesh. Perhaps we will make friends on this road, my lady.”

  “Why haven’t you tried to leave, if you are so anxious to go?” she asked hotly, glaring up at him. He clenched his jaw. Let’s do be honest with each other.

  “Were you hoping I would try it? I’ve seen you wield a sword, wench. I know my chances of escape are slim,” Jaime spit, and Brienne flushed.

  “You think yourself a captive?” Brienne was angry now. “You should have left while I was fishing if you think you’re being led to a trap,” she hissed. “I gave you that courtesy.”

  Ah. He almost had her now. He wouldn’t give her an inch.

  “Who did that to your neck, my Lady? The same outlaws that sent you to kill me?”

  She touched her neck and her expression grew fouler. Gods, she was ugly like this. Jaime pressed on.

  “Did you think I wouldn’t be suspicious? You like a beaten cow and you’ve not said three words to me yet. Did they do that to your cheek, too?”

  Her face twisted. Jaime’s hand curled into a fist on the table; a crow outside let out a cry.

  “This,” she says through her teeth, turning her cheek towards him (that’s the angle, yes, there), “was Biter’s work.”

  His stomach churned. Biter. Gods, the flesh was taken from her with those teeth? His anger cooled as he remembered the creature’s foul mouth and his filthy threats of rape. Brienne must resent Jaime for this quest. He is a man made to be resented.

  Her cheeks were both pink and Jaime realized he had been silent for some time.

  “I hope his death was painful,” Jaime murmurs.

  Brienne’s expression eases slightly.

  “We will leave tomorrow, Ser Jaime. You must save up your strength, I hear the Hound is one of the few men who can best you in a fight,”

  “You’re an awful liar, my Lady,” Jaime declares, pushing his food away and forgetting his pity. Brienne looked back up at him, her expression blank. “I only hope that wherever you plan to take me is rather more exciting than a fight with Sandor Clegane. Now, if only we had some wine. We could toast to my death.”

  She frowns at him. “Stop.”

  “Stop? Or you will throttle me, I suppose. Or perhaps I should run away, you could strike me down, you’d have an excuse. You are leading me to my death and I do not trust you to let me run away. You thought about it, I’m sure. If you want to kill me just do it,” he snarls, struggling to rise from the table with only one hand to push him up. “You’ve spent all day hesitating. Like I said, you’re a terrible liar. You want to kill me, so kill me.”

  “Stop. Stop. I’ll explain, please stop,” she says miserably, and it is an exhale, an admission. Her shoulders fall. Jaime’s anger leaves him again, and he stares at the foul bruise around her neck, the gash on her cheek.

  “You should just kill me,” he mutters, and stretches his hand.

  Brienne shakes her head. “I can’t.”

*

  She spends the rest of the day sharpening Jaime’s sword as he roots around the farm’s storage cellar to find whatever foods might be there for consumption. The findings were meager: dried horsemeat, a few moldy potatoes, and a crate of Arbor wine. That caused him to raise an eyebrow. Perhaps he hadn’t been the first wealthy man to use this place as a refuge.

  Jaime uncorks a bottle with his teeth and drinks, relishing the warm sting of alcohol as it goes through his throat and into his belly.

  I am a lucky man, he thinks for a moment.

  He and Brienne eat and Jaime finally asks her about her journey. She won’t say anything about the men who captured her, but she tells him of Dick Crabbe and of Podrick Payne, of the barefoot Septon and Ser Hyle Hunt.

  “Tarly’s a conceited shit,” Jaime says, supping his wine. Brienne’s cheeks are pink from the drink and she holds her wine goblet like a proper Lady.

  When darkness closes around them Brienne lights another fire in the sleeping quarters’ hearth. Jaime pulls his nightshirt on awkwardly, his elbows and hated stump relieving him of grace. He hears Brienne poking at the logs and turns towards her, tugging the shirt down.

  Her head jerks slightly. Watching me? He glances around the room, wondering if she had stashed a sword somewhere. Was this the moment? Would she attack? He is surprised when he hears her:

  “I’m sorry,” she says in a low voice, just loud enough to be heard over the wood cracking from the heat.

  “Why?” Jaime asks. He steps towards her and she stands jerkily, almost spooked. The firelight burns behind her low and warm as she shake her head.

  He glances away for a moment, but looks again. Jaime is quiet as she turns her shoulders, their rigid shadow cutting into the firelight. She doesn’t know he’s looking at her. She begins to remove her breeches in a hurried, awkward way. His throat tightens; this is an intrusion, something far too intimate for them. Her overshirt hangs to just above the knee and Jaime thinks for an absurd moment how long it would be on Cersei.

  Jaime tells himself that it’s the warmth of the firelight that makes such a massive woman look so elegant in this moment. His eyes follow the calculated curve of her back as she reaches to take the breeches off of her ankles, her strong hands (scarred and marked) hanging low.

I can watch, too.

  Brienne rises and runs her fingers through her hair. She turns, half in shadow and half in firelight and her mouth falls open when she sees him looking. Tensing, she bites her lip and stares at Jaime, half her face dark. The air changes. Her chest rises and falls quickly: she’s nervous, waiting. For what?

  The room is tense and he is struck by the shallow undercurrent of lust pulsing right beneath the surface of this place, aching to be realized. And it is lust now, it had been there building little by little (from what from that bath at Harrenhall or that dream I had or of knowing that she is who she is or or) since they had started their strange companionship. It gathered in small increments, so small they hadn’t even noticed. Much like the heat pooling under his skin and begging him to move, the lust has taken him by surprise.

  “It’s not proper to watch a Lady undress,” she says through gritted teeth. Jaime’s pulse resonates through his body once, twice.

  She walks to front of the edge of the bed, casting a long shadow over the length of it. She faces him directly, her mouth a severe line.

  “I will not be disrespected.”

  He has never been a man to think before he acts.

  Jaime takes four slow strides forward, keeping eye contact as he kneels before her. He descends slowly and deliberately. He begins to sweat a little and his nostrils flare as he exhales shakily. He notices beads of sweat forming on Brienne’s upper lip. The fire’s crackling is a roar, a warm presence at once pulsating and persuading.

  He does not say anything. He remains kneeling and she stares down at him blankly. Slowly, slowly he lifts his arms to her knees, letting his fingertips hover above them for a moment. The space between their skin is hot and dark and his hand begins to waver. He can hear Brienne’s breathing now, watches her chest rise and fall as she blinks. He is barely touching her with his hand and bandaged stump when her knees tremble slightly. Deliberate and slow, Jaime moves his fingertips feather-light to the back of her knee and feels the smooth skin there. Her lips twitch.

  He moves his arms up slightly, now lifting the hem of the shirt and exposing more pale thigh. He looks at what he’d done, greedily takes in the invisible dust of hair and the white skin that is private and tender. As he spreads his thumb and fingers around the curve of her leg she shudders and they both grow still. Shadows move rhythmically across the floor, the back of her thigh, his fingers.

  Moving again, he slides his hand up towards her hip, staring at his progress. He uses his stump to lift the hem near her right leg, trying not to touch her with it now, afraid he would ruin it. His lips part unconsciously as he uncovers the long inches of thigh, the increasingly vulnerable skin.

  His hand meets her hip, warm and wide.

  Before him is the soft white of her belly, just above the hair covering her place. You may be a warrior, but it is here that you are a woman. He dips his head and presses his lips to her skin, reverent. Brienne draws a hand to her mouth, betraying herself. He breathes in the scent of her and leans back to look at her face. She is pink and embarrassed, her shoulders so tense they almost shake. A maiden, a girl.

  “My lady,” he murmurs.

  “Oh Gods,” she lets out, but Jaime ignores her and presses another kiss to her belly, full and generous. She makes another noise and then apparently makes a decision as her free hand finds its way into Jaime’s hair. He gives another long kiss to the smooth skin of her stomach and his cock swells.

  I have no idea what I’m doing, he thinks suddenly, moving his hand towards Brienne’s buttocks as he presses a firmer kiss to her stomach while her fingers curl into his hair. His heart had begun speeding long ago and now his legs shook, just a little. He’d never touched anyone but Cersei like this, he didn’t know how to do it with anyone else. Pressing his forehead into Brienne’s torso he grabs her leg tight, suddenly too aware of his fear, of his lust. He pauses like this for a moment, mentally pleading for her to either kick him off or grab his cock.

  Brienne touches the bandaged stump, still hovering above her right hip.

  He looks up. Her fingers handle him gently as she maneuvers his arm up and bends her head to kiss it. Right there, unhesitating, right where the absence is, her big lips press onto the stump and she looks at him with her huge eyes and he forgets himself for just a moment.

  “I don’t care about that,” she says, her voice small. She sounds apologetic, sad. Jaime hates her for it, so he stands and kisses the sweat off of her upper lip, just to prove that he doesn’t care either.

  She places her hands on his hips like they belong there and he kisses her properly, pushing his tongue into her mouth, his body so hot and wanting that he feels as if he’s about to fall apart all over her. Her tongue touches his and he feels a crash inside of him, a ringing like that of armor against armor. He pushes her back onto the bed and she lets him—if she didn’t want this, she would push back. Jaime’s blood sings, reveling in this moment of victory. He haltingly crawls over her and straddles her waist, leaning down and balancing with one hand to lick into her kiss-swollen mouth. She lets out a moan and everything envelops him, shadow and heat and the roar of the fire and sound of lips meeting and skin rubbing against skin. She lifts her knee and fits him to her, intimate and possessive.

  His pelvis slides against hers and his breeches rub against the bare skin of her arse, thighs, and groin. She breaks their kiss and huffs, eyes closed and cheeks red. He takes advantage and sucks the pale skin of her neck, drawing another gasp; he grinds his hips and collects another.

  “Why are you doing this?” she asks in a distracted, breathless way. Jaime grimaces.

  “You know why.”

  She looks at him then, eyes blue and probing. She wants his honesty.

  “Why are we doing this?” she asks, and Jaime rises to his knees, looming over the sprawling woman. Her buttocks rest on his hips and she turns her knee inward, her calf grazing his arm. She is huge, yes; there is something all-encompassing about her, something big and wide and only for him. His answer to her question is a tug at the bottom of his shirt, pulling it up and off. Her eyes are hooded as she looks at him, and he watches her hand—resting next to her head—clench. His cock, hard and full now, twitches under his breeches.

  “Take this off,” he says, pulling at her shirt. She blushes and spreads her hand (yes, it must be the firelight that gives her this grace) across her chest. She is embarrassed, but Jaime has seen her teats before. Why should she care?

  “Take it off,” Jaime says, using his hand to unlace his breeches. “Please. I want to see you.”

  He lets his cock free as she finishes tugging the garb from over her head. She nearly freezes at the sight of it. Her mouth falls open in surprise and Jaime feels a surge of want overcome him as he imagines her swollen lips around his cock, sucking and teasing. They are dirty lips, he thinks, leaning forward on his elbows and kissing her again, hard and purposeful. Her legs wrap around his hips and she arches into him, sighing.

  They kiss and writhe, and Jaime discovers the miracle of Brienne’s hand on his cock. It is warm and gentle and just big enough. Her hands shake and her breath comes in small gasps; she is clumsy. He doesn’t mind, he is clumsy too. He keeps trying to grab her with his right hand, bumping her with the useless end of his arm and cursing under his breath. She is embarrassed and so is he, and she kisses his stump as an apology and Jaime swears he will come all over her hand if she keeps showing him these little hints of recognition, of acceptance. They end up on their sides and Jaime slides his hand to her inner thigh, moist with sweat or something else. It is too soft there; it is obscene for a woman like her to have a patch of skin like that. She trembles and lets out another moan, smaller this time. Her hand stills on his cock as he lets his little finger slide so slightly along her entrance. Her eyes go wide and blue.

  He is bold, sliding his middle finger in. Not as elegant as he was with the right hand. His cock twitches as he watches her face shift, her expression flitting between terror and expectation. She pants and her hands tremble against his cock, his stomach.

  He slides two fingers up and traces a circle.

  She coos.

  Her hand works his cock again and he can barely focus on her, the pleasure in her face growing as his is mounting. He continues to move his hand at the slow pace, watching the flush build in her cheeks as her place grew damp and hot. I’m going to come from this, he thinks as Brienne twists her wrist and lets out a strained sigh, pressing her face into the bed and breathing heavy and warm. His knees lock and he comes across her fist, groaning.

  They lay there for hours, unmoving save for Brienne’s fingers in his hair, sometimes rubbing his beard. There is comfort in this, there is affection in this. There is innocence, too.

  Her breasts rise and fall with her breath, small and soft. So much of Brienne is hard. Jaime decides that the soft spots are the most worth cherishing, the most worth protecting.

  Jaime has never done this with anyone except Cersei.

  This feels like the beginning. This feels like the end.

  Brienne slept as Jaime lay beside her, the stump of his hand resting on her belly. She doesn’t mind, she shouldn’t mind.

  When the sun peeks into the room, Brienne’s eyes open. He watched her wake, he’s barely been able to sleep these two days past and he’s found another beautiful angle to her face worth watching. She looks at him with eyes blue and fierce.

  “I will save you,” she says with the pigheaded conviction that he missed. He believes her, can do nothing but believe her. Their journey would begin again in a few hours. Jaime shifts and pets her hair gently. For now they would lay here, if only for a time.