Brienne blinked through her fatigue and raised the collar of her cloak against the swirling snowfall as it gusted and tried to steal her breath. The cold was welcome, its crisp scent kept her bright and sharp and scrubbed all thoughts of the night before from her mind.
She stood on the side of the practice yard watching Pod attack a straw man with the new technique she had just shown him. The boy moved slowly but carefully and held his wrist at precisely the angle she had demonstrated.
“Will you take Pod with you?” Ser Hyle asked, coming to stand beside her.
“I dare not,” she said softly, looking down at her boots. “I thought I might speak to Ser Brynden.”
“The boy is a squire, you know, you're training him to face danger,” Ser Hyle said.
“Yes, and he has faced enough for one so young. I cannot bring him with me--”
“Because you know you will not survive,” Ser Hyle said.
Brienne ground her teeth, wishing to avoid the subject. “Pod would be a worry for me, an extra burden. I will be more nimble on my own.”
“I mean to speak to Ser Brynden for my own sake, though I am uncertain if he will accept my service. If not, I will find some other situation. If Pod cannot remain here, I will take him with me. Though being squire to a hedge knight is no great achievement.”
“Thank you,” Brienne said, turning to look at Ser Hyle. “Even sleeping in the hedges, Pod will fare well with you.”
“Better than he'll fare with you, as you'll be dead,” Ser Hyle said with an exasperated sigh. Then he walked over to Pod and began to correct the boy's footwork.
From the corner of her eye, Brienne saw Jaime approach the practice yard. His hair was unkempt as if he'd just rolled out of bed, his jaw was rigid and sharp beneath his beard as though his teeth were clenched. And his eyes were hard as stone when they found her across the yard. Golden and menacing, he bore down on her with a fury to match the new fledged blizzard which blew snow in swirling, artful waves with each stride of his black leather boots.
Oathkeeper was belted about his waist, perched at a casual angle below his hip as though it had been forged to rest there in deadly elegance. It was, she thought.
Still twenty paces away, Jaime stopped, pointed a finger at her, and barked, “You took my sword, wench, and I'll have it back.”
Brienne's fingers slipped to the strange hilt now resting against her own hip.
“No,” she replied.
She was tired from lack of sleep and weeping, and weary of carrying the burdens of her worry for Pod, for her father, for Jaime. She was exhausted from the burning of confusing kisses and quests completed and the cruelty of strangers. She had no patience left to endure being called wench, especially by Jaime. I only want to protect you, she thought.
Jaime seemed to hear her as though she had spoken aloud. He glared at her, cocked his head to the side and raised an eyebrow as though to say 'Do not try me, Brienne'.
She glared back at him. Do not try me, Jaime.
He read her thoughts, she could see it. With a wild shake of his head, he drew Oathkeeper and came at her.
Brienne scarcely drew Jaime's own steel in time to catch his first blow. Oathkeeper was no practice blade, no blunted tourney sword. Jaime charged her with naked Valyrian steel as though he meant to kill her. The blade she held was balanced, its edge was superb and it was easy to handle, but it was nothing compared to Oathkeeper and she felt almost clumsy as she tried to survive his attack.
This was the Lion of Lannister, the Kingslayer, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard who faced her now. He was like the Warrior come to life. Even in his left hand, Oathkeeper roared as it never had for Brienne. Whatever battering, beating, rigorous re-forging Sandor Clegane had given Jaime, it was worth the agony, for his left arm had been awakened. There was no hesitation before every stroke as there had been before, his left arm strove to answer his every whim as his right once had, his strength was equal to her own.
He would never be as good as he once had been, she knew, but it did not matter.
He was beating her.
Every strike she countered was returned again with lightning speed. Every time she tried to simply keep pace with him and let him wear himself out, he slipped into an opening and she barely had time to hold him off.
She was tiring, and when he swung low for her left hip, she had to use two hands on the hilt to hold off the blow. She stopped it, but it slowed her next response and with the flat of his blade he spun around and slapped the back of her right thigh, sending her to her knees. He kicked the blade out of her hands and sent her sprawling onto her back.
Brienne lay in the middle of the practice yard trying to breathe. Realizing that for all that he'd just bruised her, he'd never so much as knicked her. Above her, she saw him sheath the red and black blade; watched as he unbuckled its belt from his waist. Then he dropped Oathkeeper at her side and bent down to unbuckle the swordbelt she wore--his swordbelt.
“Never let that sword leave your side again,” Jaime said fiercely, wrestling one-handed with the buckle at her waist. “In the spring, when I sail to Tarth to look for your bones, when I dig through whatever pile of refuse the Golden Company uses to dispose of the corpses of fools who pound on the gates of captured keeps demanding honorable single combat from sellswords, I expect to find that blade in your hand so that I need not waste time trying to identify you by your crooked teeth!”
He pulled off the belt, flipping her onto her side as he did and buckled it about his own waist as he stalked over to retrieve his blade, the one he'd sent flying. Once it was sheathed safely at his hip, he walked away without ever giving her another glance.
Brienne pushed to a sitting position and saw that every eye in the practice yard was riveted on them. Most watched Jaime's retreating back, but many of them stared at her. She had just been humiliated; a blush rose up her neck and into her cheeks. She stood quickly, picked up Oathkeeper, and left the practice yard, trying to walk as though her thigh was not throbbing in protest.
She couldn't go to her bedchamber, lest she find Jaime there, and she could not risk the main hall, for he may be there as well. The bathhouse came to mind and her feet turned that direction without another thought.
Within the steamy room one or two ladies were present, but Brienne ignored them and asked one of the servants to prepare one of the large wooden tubs for her as she went to sit on a bench against the wall. She meant to pull her boots off and undress, but instead she found herself dropping her head into her hands as she tried to collect herself.
He bested me, she thought, he bested me.
With sharp tugs, Brienne removed her boots, her leather, her wool. She threw her clothes on the ground as though they burned her. When she stood naked, she walked to where a silvered hand mirror lay on a table against the wall. She raised it with a trembling hand and she looked at her face, just as she had after she'd bathed the night they arrived at the Gates of the Moon. She had stood in this very spot, wrapped in her linen towel, struck dumb by the ruin of her cheek.
Sandor Clegane had spoken truly, she had always been ugly, but the scar made her face grotesque--it was all anyone would ever see. She had been sickened by the sight of it, knowing at last that a woman's life was beyond her reach. Knowing that her sword was all she had, all she was.
She put the mirror down, her lashes falling to her cheeks as she remembered what Jaime's eyes had told her last night as he said such awful, wonderful things. That her face didn't matter, her worth lay elsewhere: in her sword arm, in her honor. And she'd loved him for it; loved him as she'd loved Renly when the Rainbow cloak was first flung about her shoulders. Loved him...
I am taller than any other woman, she had thought the night before as she had gone outside to let the moonlight bathe her face while the others played in the snow. My arms are strong and were made to wield a greatsword, my face is scarred and terrifying, and I am all that I was meant to be.
It had been a moment of clarity and surety, and Brienne had been filled with purpose, something she had not felt since she left Tarth to join Renly. She had felt equal to the task set before her; whatever awaited her on Tarth. Death. Surely she had been born for this. To die. Jaime had laid it out so simply before her, like a battle commander spreading a map on a table: Brienne was ugly and unwanted, tall and strong, had failed Renly and Catelyn, all so she could be prepared for this moment. Because her life was always meant to be of use to her house.
Then he had kissed her and ruined it all, leaving her longing again for things she could never have, holding the hopes of a young girl before her--dangling them like morsels of food before the starving--only to snatch them away again and leave her lost and uncertain.
Brienne slipped into the steaming wooden tub, her blood charging through her veins as the memory overtook her.
In the dark you’d be as beautiful as any other woman, Ser Hyle had once told her.
Last night Jaime's green eyes had watched her, held her, with such warmth that she had forgotten the cold and the snow, the taunts of Ser Harry and the Royces, she had forgotten even the truth of her face and his sister and they had been just Jaime and Brienne, caught in a world of white where his lips met hers. And he had borne her down into the virgin snow, taking all the breath from her body and replacing it with pulsing, liquid heat. And she had burned and wanted and understood what it was that made Robert and Rhaegar tear apart a kingdom. For in that moment she would have done anything to keep him, she would have forsaken any vow, she would have betrayed all she held dear.
Then he'd left her in the snow. As she'd known he would. Should have known, I should have known, for dreams end on waking. And she had tried to set things aright in her mind, had tried to arrange the pieces of her world so that they fit in place again as they had only moments before. But it was useless.
And now he had bested her. Beaten her. She slipped down and let the water of her bath cover her head. For a moment or two, she held her breath and let the water envelop her as she had done when she was a child. It was quiet with only the sound of her pulse in her ears. Even if the beat of it whispered his name. Jaime, Jaime, Jaime.
Brienne stood up from the bath, wrapped herself in a towel and reached for the clothing that had been brought for her. She pulled on the borrowed breeches, perfectly serviceable, their shortness hidden beneath her boots. Over her head, she slipped on the undertunic which had long enough sleeves, though it had been made for a barrel-chested man twice her weight. And the tunic. Oh, the tunic was very fine and she knew it well. It was the one Jaime had been wearing when she found him at Pennytree. Carefully wrought in red and gold on the dun colored linen, the Lannister coat of arms glared out at her; the servants must have found it in the bedchamber, laundered it, and mistaken it for her own.
She nearly sent the servant for something else, but some part of her, some quiet urge, had her reaching for it and slipping it over her head before she could think better of it.
By the time she reached the door of the solar where they'd been taken to meet Baelish when they first arrived, she had grown accustomed to the black stares Jaime's coat of arms drew. Sandor, who was apparently awaiting an audience as well, looked her up and down with a smirk.
They were both admitted at the same time by a man at arms, and Brienne knew she should not be surprised to find Jaime closeted within with Ser Brynden.
She expected him to roll his eyes at her attire, or to make a joke, but she wasn't prepared for the heat she felt when her gaze met his or for the way his eyes seemed to soften at the sight of her, all his previous anger bled from him as though it had never existed. And in a blink her own anger and frustration were forgotten. Her breathing grew heavy, her eyes taking in his mussed golden curls where they nearly brushed his shoulders, his beard hiding what might have been a smile playing about his lips. Don't look at his lips, she told herself.
Ser Brynden took in her attire with obvious distaste and Brienne forced her attention to her original purpose. “Ser Brynden,” she said. “I am unable to take my squire with me when I leave the Vale. He is a good lad, stout of heart, loyal, and uncomplaining. I would ask you to find a place for him in your household. If not as your own personal squire, perhaps as--”
“Yes,” Ser Brynden interrupted, “I'll take on your squire. Hunt tells me you intend to fling yourself on a sword in the south.”
Brienne flushed, but drew herself to her full height. “I must go home.”
“I'm not fond of you, woman,” Ser Brynden said, “but let me give you some advice. When this honorless, Kingslaying, cripple stole my family seat,” Ser Brynden continued with a glare at Jaime, “I could have done what you're planning. Instead, I swallowed my pride, kept my head low, and bided my time. You can't help anyone if you're dead.”
“Thank you for taking Podrick, Ser Brynden, he will serve you well,” Brienne said, offering no response, but giving the man a curt nod before she turned to leave.
“My niece tells me she has taken you into her service, Clegane,” Ser Brynden said as Brienne was walking toward the door. “To which I say, dogs--”
A maester was at the door when Brienne opened it, and the way he bustled past her without even glancing at her scar made her turn back into the room, closing the door behind her.
“My lords,” the maester said with a quick bow as he approached both Jaime and Ser Brynden with a missive held high in his hand.
Jaime looked tense.
“What is it, man?” Ser Brynden asked.
Please, not Tarth. Not my father, Brienne prayed.
“Queen Cersei,” the maester said, and Brienne heard Jaime draw a sharp breath. “Her cousin Lancel Lannister bore witness against her and she was assured to be found guilty of King Robert's murder at the least, so she demanded trial by combat. A Ser Robert Strong, lately of the Kingsguard, was her champion and prevailed.”
Jaime walked to the fireplace and leaned his right elbow against the mantle, his forehead leaning forward to rest on his golden hand, the light from the fire caressing his face with warm tones. His relief was audible and palpable.
Brienne watched him, a lump in her throat.
“There is more, my lords,” the maester continued. “Queen Cersei fled in the night, taking the little king and this Ser Robert with her. Lord Mace Tyrell demands the king's return.”
Jaime laughed at this last bit. He glanced at Brienne with a smile that could light a room.
“And the Tyrell girl?” Sandor asked.
“Her trial is postponed, in hopes Ser Loras will recover and return from Dragonstone,” the maester said, “though the High Septon insists it cannot be put off indefinitely and another champion from the Kingsguard must be chosen.”
“Thank you, maester,” Ser Brynden said as the maester made his bows again and hustled out of the room.
Brienne turned to leave again, but this time she heard footsteps behind her and knew it was Jaime who fell into step beside her.
“Casterly Rock,” he said as they stepped into the long corridor. “She will go home. I hope she has seen to Myrcella. I can meet them there.”
“It is the best news you could hope for,” Brienne said.
“I can defend Casterly Rock,” Jaime continued, and she knew he was already making plans. “For the winter at least, I can keep them safe. As soon as this bloody snow stops, I can go.”
“Yes,” Brienne replied, for yes was a short word and easy to say. He would not even travel so far as Gulltown with her now. They would part soon. As soon as the roads out of the Vale could be risked.
“Come with me,” he said softly. “Help me save my children.”
No, there is no honor in this.
“I must-- my father--”
Jaime stopped her with a hand on her arm. They stood before the door out to the courtyard and a gust of falling snow blew in on them as a servant entered. Jaime's gaze was so firm, so resolute. He can see a future again, she realized, he has seen through his hopelessness.
When he saw his sister again, would he even remember their snowy kiss? Would it be a fleeting moment of his journey that would slip away like the memory of what he'd eaten at last night's supper?
I will carry it every moment of my life, she thought.
“Brienne,” he said. “Come with me. I cannot spare soldiers, but from the Rock we could hire mercenaries. You could go back with a force of men. If you can wait until Spring, I can come with you. We could--”
“I thank you for the offer. You have been a good friend to me, Ser.”
“Jaime?” she asked in a whisper.
“Jaime,” he said, glaring at her for a moment before he turned and walked away from her, his fury ringing with every footstep.
Brienne practically ran out the door and toward the practice yard, but found it had been abandoned in the now sweeping winds of the snowstorm. The snow outside the carefully cleared paths already reached her waist and she wondered how long she would be delayed as she stood alone in the yard looking about her at the piling snow. I hope it is weeks, some selfish part of her whispered. No, I must leave soon.
“My lady, have you no cloak?”
Brienne turned to see Sansa Stark had joined her. “I forgot Lady...Alayne.”
“Come inside,” Sansa said, gesturing for Brienne to follow her.
Brienne did as Sansa bid, for she had nowhere to go and her eyes were beginning to blur and her mind was muddled. Sansa led her up and up and up the stone steps of one of the towers and into a small solar, stopping at the door to give Brienne's tunic a long, hard look.
“Warm yourself by the fire, my lady, please,” Sansa said.
“Brienne. Please, call me Brienne.”
“Brienne. I have heard a strange tale, Brienne,” Sansa said, her face full of uncertainty. “Of Lady Catelyn Stark and the charge she gave you. And...strange stories of that lady returning to life only to be killed again by Jaime Lannister.”
“Why would Clegane tell you that?” Brienne asked in exasperation, knowing that the real Catelyn Stark would never have wanted her daughter to know what had become of her.
“Because it is true,” Sansa said simply.
Brienne sighed. She was beaten and heartbroken and had no stomach for pretense. “Yes, it is true. I loved Lady Catelyn, she was so kind to me. We went to King's Landing, intending to return you-- Lady Catelyn's daughters to her. But they weren't there, one was believed dead, the other fled. And Jaime sent me after her, to hide her and keep her safe, even from his own kin. It's all true. Though I should have killed the creature who was Catelyn Stark myself. Jaime did the thing I could not, and I was grateful.”
Sansa took all this in and nodded. “I hate him,” she said softly.
I love him, Brienne thought, and found herself sinking to the floor, hugging her knees to her chest as she had the night before, trying to hold herself together.
“He is the best man I know,” Brienne said. “He is loyal to the point of madness, to the point that betrayal nearly breaks him. He is ruthless on behalf of those he loves. He is wicked and he can be cruel, but he finds worth where others see only waste. The world looks at him and sees a monster, and once I thought he was a monster as well, but I was wrong. His honor is sure and true and it has saved me over and over and over again. And mine has only failed him.”
Sansa had dropped to her knees beside Brienne. “Sandor says you are honest. That you have honor.”
Brienne covered her face with her hands. “I did. But I am the betrayer. I betrayed him.”
“And you find him worthy of this devotion? Tyrion did seem to love him, but when I heard how he hates Tyrion--”
“Jaime loved Tyrion. Still loves him, I think, but they have harmed one another. Tyrion killed Joffrey,” Brienne said, unsure why she was defending Jaime to a girl who had more reason than most to hate him.
“Tyrion did not kill Joffrey,” Sansa said. The girl said it with such conviction that Brienne believed her. Had Jaime been right in King's Landing? Could it have been Sansa herself? Would Tyrion have lied even to his own brother to protect her?
Brienne did not want to know. “May I tell Jaime so? It has broken his heart to lose his little brother to this falsehood, I think.”
“Lannister heartbreak is of little concern to me,” Sansa said with a soft politeness that belied the venom in her words.
“Was Tyrion so cruel to you?”
“No,” Sansa said, “he was the best of them, but still one of them.”
“Are you yet a maid? Was he so kind as that?” Brienne asked.
“I am a maid,” Sansa said. “Are you?”
Brienne blushed, but nodded. “Thanks to Jaime. He saved me from rape, he is not the monster you think him.”
Sansa searched Brienne's face. “This is how he won your loyalty,” she said softly. “You thought you were lost, they were pulling you down, you thought they would take you and he appeared and he saved you.”
“Yes,” Brienne said, though that was not quite how it had been. “When no one else could have, when no one else would have, Jaime saved me.”
Sansa nodded sagely and sat back on her heels. “I understand,” the girl said. “You feel safe with him.”
Brienne had not thought of it like that. There were times she felt anything but safe with Jaime, but there was no way to explain it to Sansa.
“I wish never to be parted from him,” Brienne said softly, because it was true, and because it felt good to speak the truth aloud.
Sansa smiled at her and sat beside her while they both stared into the flames, each with their own thoughts.
That night, the dining hall was more subdued. There were plans to hold a funeral for Baelish in three days' time and there was much discussion of this near to where Brienne sat with Sandor.
“Wonder if they'll throw his balls in the tomb with him,” Sandor quipped softly so only she could hear.
She rolled her eyes, but couldn't help her slight laugh. “At least she's still a maid,” Brienne said under her breath.
Sandor gave her a hard look at that. Brienne noticed that Sansa glanced down at them from where she was seated next to Jaime. Brienne gave the girl a small smile and Sansa returned it. Jaime hadn't so much as glanced her way all evening.
“You wear that tunic again tomorrow and you'll be joining Baelish,” Sandor said in his rasping voice. “Even Lannister knows better than to inflame this lot by wearing it.”
“I see no dishonor in it,” she said.
“You wouldn't,” Sandor said. “You going with him to the Rock? It would be worth the journey just to see Cersei Lannister's face when she sees you wearing it.”
“I am going home.”
“Die how you want.”
“I may not die.
“True. Some sellsword could chain you up and make you his whore. A half-blind sellsword, mind. Course you'd wish you were dead.”
“I'm good with a blade,” Brienne said, “and with a mace. It is my home and I know its terrain well. Why does everyone assume I will not survive?”
“Because you're too bloody honorable. You'll ride up and ask them to leave,” Sandor said, then he took a long gulp of his ale. “Your only hope would be finding some fool with half an army and no land of his own to marry you and help you take your island back, and that's assuming Connington doesn't actually have Aegon Targaryen, and that he doesn't conquer the whole of Westeros and then come back to finish you off.”
Brienne stood and left the table. She left the hall and walked outside, but it was blizzarding and she wasn't dressed for it. In the end, she curled up on her bed in her tiny chamber. “Closet,” Jaime had called it.
Her room had no hearth, but Jaime's did and the servants had built a roaring blaze in it. Through her open door she watched the flames, considering what she could say to make amends to Jaime.
And then he was there, standing in her doorway, leaning against the doorpost with the arrogance of a prince. His hair was glowing in the firelight, perfectly tousled as though he'd just run his hand through it. “Bruised?” he asked mockingly.
“No--you?” she threw back, all thoughts of amends burnt away by her flaring anger.
“You never touched me,” he taunted, his hand smoothing his beard along his jaw as he smirked.
“No. You touched me.”
He snorted. “Do you really want to talk about that?”
All her confidence left her. “No.”
“Jaime, I talked to Sansa.”
“She hates me.”
“Yes,” Brienne said, sitting up against the headboard of the small bed. “But, she told me Tyrion didn't kill Joffrey.”
She watched his face, saw his pained smile. “Yes, she hinted as much to me. So I am the only rotten brother.”
“You love him, you freed him.”
“I wronged him.”
“He will forgive you,” Brienne said.
“You always think everyone will forgive me. Why? Because you did?” Jaime turned away then, grabbed a chair from beside the hearth, and put it down in the doorway. As he sat down, he gave her a grimace. “My brother had a wife, you see.”
“No, before Sansa. When he was young, little older than Sansa. He and I were out riding in the Westerlands and I arranged a farce for him as I thought it was time he lay with a woman. I hired a young unblooded whore to play the part of a maiden crofter's daughter. As Tyrion and I came riding down the road, she came bursting through the woods at the roadside, rapists on her heels. Of course I made a great show of chasing off these rapists so that Tyrion could play the hero.”
Brienne nodded for him to continue.
“So,” Jaime continued, “as I was off playing at dispensing justice, Tyrion took the girl into the next town and to the town's inn, as I had intended. He fed her, he charmed her, and by the time I arrived, he was taking her upstairs to deflower her. My brotherly duties done, I left him to her, thinking he would enjoy a pleasant evening fucking the girl and leave her in the morning a new man.”
Brienne watched Jaime closely, for his tone seemed to become more wry with every word.
“Only imagine my surprise,” Jaime said, “when my father told me Tyrion had married the little hussy. My deception had been too good. Two weeks this marriage continued, hidden away in some cottage in the woods, before it was discovered. He was so happy with her--you would have had to know him to understand the look on his face when we found him--but I knew him and I could see it, and I saw it crumble when I told him the truth. My father felt Tyrion needed to learn a lesson from this, so after I had told Tyrion the truth, my father had the girl sent to the barracks to service his soldiers. He made Tyrion watch, to see what a whore she really was. And then, before my father sent the girl on her way, he had Tyrion take her again as well, and while my father paid her a silver for each soldier who took her, he paid her a gold dragon for Tyrion.”
“Jaime,” Brienne said sadly, “you didn't--”
“Oh no,” he said, his voice full of self-loathing, “I didn't know about the barracks until well after it had happened.”
“You couldn't have known, Jaime, it was a misguided act of love and you are not responsible for your father's villainy,” she said. “Surely Tyrion will understand you hired her to make him happy and he will forgive--”
Jaime laughed then, a harsh, bitter sound. “You're so naive. Innocent. He was too, then, my sweet little brother who only longed to be loved. And he was convinced she loved him until I told him otherwise. I couldn't understand the importance of that. Not then. She was a pretty enough little thing, but a peasant and unsophisticated, and nothing compared to Cersei and I could not imagine a man loving any woman who was less than Cersei.”
Brienne's throat had gone dry.
“My father convinced me, and I thought he was right. The girl would have been an embarrassment to us and she had to be dealt with. I still hoped my father would give Casterly Rock to Tyrion, perhaps I was still a bit naive too. This girl could not be his wife if that was to happen. The marriage needed to be annulled and for all I knew she was only after his gold anyway.”
Brienne dropped her gaze from his, unable to look at him.
“You see I told my brother the story I just told you, but it is only a story. The truth is that Tyrion's little wife was what she appeared. A crofter's daughter who loved him, who gave him her maidenhead freely the night she met him, who married him, my misshapen, unloved little brother. And I took her from him.”
Brienne swallowed hard and stared at the floor. Everything hurt. Her heart, her soul, her thigh, her cheek, they all ached. She thought of Tyrion Lannister, and though she had never met him, she felt a kinship with him in that moment she'd never before imagined. As for the girl Tyrion had married, Brienne could have wept for her.
“If I were Tyrion, I too would have killed your father,” Brienne said softly, still unable to look at Jaime.
“He threatened to kill me the next time he sees me,” Jaime said.
“I am not surprised,” she said.
“Has this finally killed your foolish belief in my honor?”
She shook her head slowly, but in truth she could not meet his eyes. “You told him the truth,” she said, simply unsure what else could be said.
He let out a bitter, laughing growl. “The truth. I rarely thought of it for years. It was only after my time in the dungeons of Riverrun that it started to wear at me. Only after I met you. With you constantly reminding me I had shit for honor and forever throwing my crimes in my face, it all floated to the surface and I began to understand what I had done. It was a debt I needed to pay.”
Brienne looked up at him then. His eyes bored into hers. She might once have seen only anger there, but she could see the pain now, the guilt. “What has any of this was to do with me?” she asked. “Were you thinking of Tyrion's wife when you saved me?”
“How long are you going to wear my colors?” he asked, his gaze raking her in a way that made her begin to flush.
“Is that why you saved me from rape? Is that why you called out that night? Sapphires. Was that your chance to make amends for Tyrion's wife?”
“Blue is a better color on you.”
“Am I your redemption, Jaime? You've wronged your brother and this poor sad girl, so you'll save me to atone? Why have you ever been kind to me? Why save me and nurse me back to health and talk to me and fight with me? Why give me your sword? Why tell me your secrets? Was it really for honor? I have never known.”
“Red is almost as bad as pink.”
“You want your bloody tunic? Here,” she said, pulling it off, wadding it up and throwing it in his face.
“Why stop there?” He asked, gesturing at the rest of her clothes as he gripped the tunic in his hand.
“Why? I am nothing compared to Cersei.”
“Wench, I believe that's the first time you've ever uttered her name.” His eyes had grown dark, the green lost to the black of his pupils. “What could have roused such passion that you would allow her name to profane your lips?”
“Wench,” she repeated. She tried to ignore the quickening of her pulse.
“Oh yes, Brienne, wench.”
“Kingslayer, you mean.”
“Do you want me to hate you, Jaime? I would be happy to hate you, tell me how.”
“Come out of that room,” he said. “Come to my bed and I promise you, you'll hate me by morning.”
His words hung in the air between them, naked and screaming.
Her breath caught as she stared at him. “I am tall and ugly and, as you know, I was made to kill men, not lie with them. I grow tired of your cruelty.”
“Yes, I am cruel,” he said as he stood, leaning against the doorpost again, staring her down. “Do you know what happens between a woman and a man when they lie together?”
“Yes,” she said, cursing her darkening blush.
She grew restless, nearly writhing under his gaze. His eyes were dark and alive in the firelight, full of mischief and other things she could not allow herself to see. Don't make me believe that you want me, she thought.
“Why do you taunt me with this?” she asked. “Is this how you amuse yourself so you can stay faithful to her even when you're apart? You'll be back at Casterly Rock soon enough.”
“Yes. Without you,” he answered. Then he continued his taunt, “There's more to what happens between a man and a woman than just removing your clothes and lying there naked.”
“I lived in a camp full of soldiers, Jaime.”
“A man would want to touch you between your legs, Brienne,” he said. “He would want to slip his fingers through the hair you keep hidden there and slide them between your thighs.”
She felt a shiver go through her. Her thighs rubbed slightly together.
He saw the movement. He smiled. He shifted his stance. “Are you wet?”
“Why are you doing this?” She demanded in a whisper.
“Do you know why men like breasts?”
She crossed her arms over her chest to hide her breasts, but her hands sliding over the linen undertunic only served to stimulate them. “Jaime...”
“Do you know that a man will suckle at a woman's breast just like a babe?”
Brienne couldn't help her gasp. A string tugged between her nipples and her center. Her thighs moved and slipped together again. “Save this for your sister,” she managed to sputter.
“Come out of that room and I will show you. I will take your nipple in my mouth, I will hold it with my teeth, I will suck on it and you will beg for more,” he said, and she believed him. His gaze was like a flame, leaving burns wherever it touched. Her thighs could no longer keep still, her breath refused to even out, and the moisture he spoke of was there, waiting for his touch.
“Come and show me,” she said, finding courage from somewhere, needing him to admit it was all in jest. “Come to me in this bed and I will not turn you away.”
He swallowed, his nostrils flared, but he did not move. “I will spread your legs, Brienne, and I will bury myself between them. Red is my color and it will stain your thighs when I enter you. You'll wonder how you ever existed before I was inside you. Come here. Now.”
There was no jest in the look he gave her. She swallowed.
“You can see that I want that,” she whispered, deciding she would enter this melee as though she were the sort of woman who had the right to fight in it. “Step across that threshold and take me.”
“Why should your maidenhead lie shriveled and dead in some tomb on Tarth when we could both have a moment's peace?”
“Why should it?” She felt bolder now. “Come and take it.”
“Come to me.”
“Come to me.”
“I will not dishonor you.”
“You have talked of nothing else.”
“If you come to me--”
“It wouldn't be you dishonoring me, it would be me dishonoring myself?”
“You are lying to yourself, Jaime. Go find some other woman whose honor matters less to you than mine. Close my door. Go to Myranda Royce, she looks at you as though she wants to take you to bed.”
“As you have been looking at me all day?”
“You should never have kissed me,” she answered.
“You should never have let me,” he said. He gave her a small smile, a movement in the dark gold of his beard. “I want no other woman, Brienne.”
“I cannot bear to be parted from you, Jaime,” she whispered.
“Then don't leave me, damn you,” he said, gripping the door post hard. “Come with me. I need you. I won't touch you.”
“Why? Because your father wants you dead in his defense? I will not believe it. He is doubtless grateful you were nowhere near your bloody rock in the Narrow Sea when the attack came.”
“If it were your father, Jaime--”
“If it were your Rock--”
“Enough. You insist on being a fool and I cannot follow you. I must not.”
“I know,” she said. “I would never ask.”
“I want to follow you.”
“But you will not.”
“I want to follow you because you would never ask,” he said, his voice turning soft.
“Why, Jaime? Tell me why.”
“It has nothing to do with Tyrion,” he said, holding her gaze, his eyes sharp and bright. “I did not know why then, and I still do not. I don't know why.”
“We will part soon. You will return to her, you will forgive her, and in a year's time you will have forgotten this night,” she said, sad and sure, longing for him to deny it, treasuring the things he had said like the rare gifts they were.
I will have this night, she thought. Once, a man such as this wanted me, even if it was only madness.
Jaime smiled at her then. It was a smile with no mirth. “You know we'll both be dead in a year's time. Nothing will be left of us but a few songs, and none of them kind.”
Brienne could only stare at him.
He threw the tunic back at her then. “Wear it when you die. That should excite a singer or two.”
Then he turned away from her, kicking the chair out of the way before he disappeared from her view. She heard him undress, heard him hang his sword on the bedpost, heard him slip beneath the furs.
She draped the tunic over her bedpost and lay her head down on the pillow, praying the snow would continue for another day.