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The Monster

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At 8:30 on a gloomy Wednesday morning, Brienne Tarth was ushered into a small office and flopped herself unceremoniously into an overstuffed leather chair across from psychiatrist Dr. Meribald. She wanted desperately to dislike the exceptionally comfortable chair, as she wanted to detest Dr. Meribald, his undersized office, his profession, and all he stood for, but after being in his presence for a few minutes, taking in his tranquil face and demeanor, she knew that was never going to be a possibility.

Dr. Meribald appeared a genial, gentle seeming man, with numerous photos of his dog hanging around the office. Try as she might, Brienne could not detest a dog lover. Still, she could hate that she had to be here involuntary. Until she completed her thirteen weeks of mandatory therapy, Brienne was demoted to desk jockey, filing paperwork for the detectives in her squad while some other officer worked with Jaime. It was temporary, her superiors promised; a stress free respite from the hazards of the job. It felt like a punishment.

Dr. Meribald was the fourth therapist to attempt tackling her demons. All the others had ever received from her was contempt, a stony silence screaming with resentment. The last had sat in total quiet with her for an hour, letting her prove that her issues were hers and hers alone and would not be shared. Hate was a constant companion these days; anger was the blanket that warmed her as the winter winds wafted down from the north. While Brienne’s life had never been ideal, rage was a new emotion for her, a hard and bitter pill to swallow. Deep down she knew she needed help but was loath to acknowledge that weakness. Brienne believed herself a fighter, strong but quietly fierce; now she, and everyone around her, knew the truth.

Dr. Meribald promptly told Brienne that he had been a therapist for nearly forty years. He was a large man with a thick head of grey hair, and Brienne estimated him to be in his late sixties; near her father’s age, if Selwyn had survived the heart attack. Her eyes caught a pot of violets, her favorite flower, in the corner of the office. “Your flowers are lovely,” she commented, part truth and part deflection from introducing herself properly. “I can’t believe you have some at this time of year.”
He smiled at her, the corners of his eyes crinkling jovially. “Thank you, Brienne. I like violets because they’re beautiful and resilient. It’s early in the season, but I find they always come through in the end.”

The flowers were pretty. Brienne was not. Brienne was used to being the most unattractive woman in a room, much too tall and manly to be conventionally attractive. Her hair was too thin and brittle, her mouth too wide, her shoulders too broad. She wondered what he thought of her as they made asinine small talk. What did he see when he looked into her eyes? Jaime once remarked that her eyes were beautiful, like windows to her soul. What secrets was her soul betraying to this doctor? What feelings did her face unwillingly give away? Was she the ugliest person ever to sit in his luxurious chair? Was he deeming her the most revolting patient he had ever analyzed?

Unexpectedly, a deep sense of shame overtook her. Dr. Meribald aided officers wounded in the line of duty; his patients were maimed, scared, or deformed, veterans of physical battles. Dr. Meribald ministered to the minds of victims with bullet and stab wounds, shattered bones and torn faces. Brienne’s injuries were invisible to the naked eye; the damage was on the inside. Did that make her lucky? Did that make her less revolting, or more so?

“So Brienne,” Dr. Meribald said, leaning slightly forward in his chair, his focus turning abruptly to business, “please tell me why you are here.”

“It’s mandatory,” she told him, half-heartedly. “I have to come for-“

“Yes, yes, I am aware that you have to be here. I am asking you why you are here.” With an exasperated sigh, she began again. “I’m here because something happened to me while-“

“Brienne,” Dr. Meribald said softly, magically turning her name into a balm, applying it to her aching soul, soothing her into compliance. “Why are you here?”

Her heart leapt into her throat, and the desire to run loomed heavy as the storm clouds that gathered outside the office window. Brienne was not a person who shared her feelings, who talked effortlessly, as Jaime did. She did not want to admit how she had failed. Like a miser, she wanted to hold on to the hate, anger, and resentment; those emotions were aggressive guard dogs, keeping the fear at bay. However, anger, hate, and resentment were keeping other things at bay as well. Therefore, though it was difficult and alien to her, she took a deep breath, and finally began to disclose.

“I am here because I am alive, but I’m not truly living. And I am here because of this.” She reached into the satchel she had dumped sloppily at her feet when she collapsed into the chair, and brought out a small box. Reverently, she held the box out to Dr. Meribald. He took it, opened it, stared at the contents for a few moments, then softly closed the box and handed it back to her. She watched a mired of expressions cross his face- surprise, delight, concern, reactions that mirrored her own most days when she gazed at the box. “I’m here because I fancied myself a warrior once. I set out to conquer the world but I can’t conquer this.” For the first time since that ill-fated night, Brienne broke down and cried; gross, ugly sobs that distorted her features. “That warrior is vanishing. Who am I, if I’m not her?” Dr. Meribald handed her a tissue, and Brienne worked to regulate her breathing. When at last she gained some control over herself, she spoke again. “I have to save her,” she told him, her voice barely a whisper. “I have to try and save her, or I’m going to die trying.”

To her surprise, Dr. Meribald reached out and took hold of Brienne’s hand. I like you, she thought, I like you very much but I don’t see how you can help me, how anyone can. He smiled at her. “You will save her, Brienne. You started saving her today.”

***

Selwyn Tarth often dreamed while holding his only child that she would be the spitting image of beauty and grace his late wife had been. Yet as soon as his rough and tumble tomboy of a daughter began to come home covered in mud and bruises, accompanied by the parents of some neighborhood boy she had soundly trampled for calling her ugly, he knew he had to reconsider his dream. Therefore, when at age fifteen Brienne announced she would become a cop, Selwyn was ready to support her vision instead of his own, even in the face of his uncertainty.

“Now darling,” Selwyn intoned to his serious and solemn daughter, “being a cop is an important job, but it’s not always as glamorous as you see on TV. It will be hard. You may see awful things and encounter dreadful people. There are as many different types of criminals as there are fish in the sea.”

Her father meant well, but lately being a police officer was all she could imagine for her future. The job was a challenge she could live up to. Brienne was an unusual girl and precious few things in life she was natural at; being a cop was procedure, required certain coldness, and divided the world into good and evil. She could identify with those themes. “Do you think glamour lures me, Father? Do I seem the sort of girl to break at the first sign of something shocking?”

Selwyn smiled despite his concerns. “No, but the job, like life, will certainly be unfair. Lawbreakers will get away, the defenseless will suffer, and you may not have the power to stop these things from happening, no matter how hard you strive for justice. These concerns are worrisome, Brienne. I cannot imagine you abiding unfairness, no matter what the personal cost. You will have to fight, every day.”

She looked into her father’s sapphire eyes, so similar to her own. “I know it won’t be easy, Father, but I have thick skin, and my scruples will be my shield against hardship. I was made to do this job.”

“I agree,” he sighed. With those words, the future flowed out like a river in front of Brienne, catching her in its current and hurtling her toward the lonely landscape of broken dreams.

***

Being a patient, is it soothing or stifling? How many disturbed souls had sat here prior to her, pondering the same question?

Dr. Meribald was more of a mummer than a doctor. His sleight of hand was superb. The man was the master of innocent queries and reassuring adages meant to guide her gaze in one direction, while he stole her secrets and held them out to her in supplication before she could decipher his maneuvers. Some days therapy left her in awe and made her feel free. Other days it drove her insane.

“When did you lose your father?”

“I lost him when I was twenty five, about a year after I graduated from the academy.”

“I can tell he meant a lot to you.”

Selwyn’s passing had been, until the current predicament, the most difficult thing she had ever dealt with. Her mother died when she was a toddler, and Brienne had no recollection of her. It was hard for her to make friends, and she still had so few, but when Selwyn had been alive, Brienne had never felt alone. As always, memories of him tilted her full lips up in joy, making her forget the toothy smile she usually tried to hide.

“Yes,” she conceded, “he meant the world to me. He was my father but he was also my friend, my champion. Most people don’t understand me, not like my father did.” Her smile disappeared. “I think about him a lot these days. I find my thoughts have turned to him when I’m out for a run or making dinner. I am curious how he would feel about what occurred. What advice would he have for me?”

“When Selwyn was alive, did he share in the important parts of your life? Did he encourage your choice to become a police officer, and come to your graduation? Did he call you and want to talk about all the new experiences you were having on the force?”

“Oh yes! We spoke on the phone a few times a week. He came to visit too, as often as he could.”

“So what you are telling me is that you shared all the good experiences with your father. The good and the bad things we go through are a part of our journey. People share their feelings when they experience happy and difficult times. Sharing those moments and having family and friends share them helps you. I cannot speak for your father, yet I wonder if he would tell you to share the burden of the bad times with someone, as you shared the good times with him?”

Brienne sighed. “Yes, I imagine he would say something like that.” Dr. Meribald leveled his gaze on her. Her father had been the sleight of hand today and the doctor was prepping her for the main performance.

“Friendships do not come easily to you, yet in former sessions you spoke of friends. Sansa and Hyle were their names?” Dr. Meribald inquired. “I would like to hear more about them, and I want to talk about someone else as well. I’d like to know about Jaime Lannister. Who is Jaime Lannister to you?”

***

The process of becoming a police officer was an endlessly complicated puzzle of pieces to fit together, the reward for completion was a badge and gun, and the blessing to chase crooks. Brienne gladly endured the criminal justice program, the psychological and physical tests, and the police academy in the hope that she would one day make detective. Time passed in a chaotic and busy blur for her. One requirement of academy was a number of ride-along stints with seasoned officers, a shadowing experience meant to push cadets into the squad in which they would perform best. Most cadets grumbled about them, but learning first-hand how to be a police officer was Brienne’s favorite part. She looked forward to them with fervor, memorizing the different squads, weighing them against each other in her mind, casting herself mentally in each role. In the front seat of a patrol car, Brienne was in control.

“Have you had a ride-along with Lannister yet?” Hyle Hunt asked her one afternoon as they walked out of training. Brienne was so distracted she almost didn’t hear his question. Their repulsive classmate, Ronnet Connington, whose insults burrowed under her skin, had hijacked her thoughts. Ronnet had been in fine form that day, his intimidations taking on a vaguely sexual undercurrent when the trainer wasn’t paying attention. He always made the hair on Brienne’s arms stiffen, making her berate herself for being ridiculous. Yet something about him deeply troubled her. Brienne was grateful for Hyle’s happy chatter, which took her mind off Connington.

A rite of passage for the cadets seemed to be a ride along with the infamous Detective Jaime Lannister of the Extradition squad, the unit that transported prisoners across Kings Landing to various correction facilities and the prison. Jaime Lannister was the son of Tywin Lannister, the Chief of Police, a man with a hard reputation for success and decisiveness. His son’s reputation was decidedly less lustrous.

“No,” she responded. “Have you done a ride along with him?”

He laughed flippantly and lazily lit a cigarette. Hyle had seated himself next to her in their Juvenile Justice college class and managed to infiltrate Brienne’s life by offering to let her look on in his textbook since she hadn’t yet purchased hers. Amazingly, he had stayed despite her standoffish vibe, managing to be simultaneously exasperating and congenial. Though at times she found his glibness irritating, he had an honest face, and she was touched when he insisted on studying with her at the library that year. Her only other true friend was Sansa, with whom she had gone to high school. Hyle was a different sort of friendship, and she found herself accepting his permanent presence with unaccustomed ease. They enrolled in the police academy at the same time, and Hyle Hunt became a constant facet of her life.

His brown hair fell into his eyes, causing him to shake his head as he blew smoke out through his mouth. “Yeah,” he answered, “I had him last week. The guy is a pompous asshole with absolutely no filter. As he dropped me off after the ride, he told me I should put in for the K-9 unit; he had seen dogs with better instincts than me and maybe I would learn something. That was the least offensive thing he said, mind you. He also had a litany of nicknames to call me. You are going to hate him. I can’t wait to hear what he says about you.”

Brienne shrugged. “Maybe I won’t have him.”

“Oh, you will have him, everyone does eventually. I bet his daddy makes him do these damn rides to frighten the pussy rookies away. I would hope to never come across him again, but since his dad is the boss, that doesn’t seem likely.” Hyle puffed his cigarette then looked at her, his eyebrows raised. “Oops, I just realized I said pussy in front of a lady. Now I’ve said it twice.”

“I don’t care, and I’m no lady,” Brienne said.

“Yup, and Lannister is going to have a field day with that!” Hunt was positively gleeful with the prospect.

***

“When did you know that you were in love with Jaime?” Dr. Meribald asked on one of her subsequent visits.

Brienne shifted in her chair, a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “I don’t know if I would call it love,” she replied. “I was a grown woman, an ugly and awkward grown woman. I thought I was done with all that nonsense. I didn’t think love could happen to someone like me.”

“Brienne, my dear, love isn’t out of the ordinary. It happens to just about everyone; like chicken pox or the flu, as probable as the heat of a long summer, or the snows of an endless winter. It can catch us in our childhood, as adults, or even in old age when we mistakenly consider ourselves beyond the reach of new love. We never can tell where we will find love, whether it will last or fade away.”

She smiled a slight smile. “I feel in love with Jaime when we fought The Bear.”

“That sounds like an exciting tale, Brienne. I’d love to hear it.”

***

The day she shadowed the Extradition squad Detective Lannister was lounging in the driver seat of the police van that picked her up in front of her apartment in Duskendale. She had never seen him in person before but recognized him immediately from Hyle’s ungenerous description. In his mid-thirties, Jaime Lannister was already a legend on the force due to his reputation for being reckless and fearless. His hair was a little too long, his smile too indolent, and the green of his eyes brought to mind pieces of tumbled glass she would pluck from the seashore as a child. Hyle had failed to mention that Lannister was devastatingly handsome. Brienne usually didn’t observe the attractiveness of men because they never returned her interest, but she reasoned he was the most beautiful man she had ever seen. Then he spoke, and she amended her thought to this is the most loathsome man I have ever met.

She buckled her seatbelt then looked up at him. His emerald eyes judged her face, found her lacking. “You are ugly,” he stated, matter-of-factly.

“No. I’m Brienne, Brienne Tarth” she retorted. “I assume you are Detective Lannister?”

“That I am, Jaime Lannister, son of Tywin Lannister.” The immediate statement of his father’s name, as if he was issuing a challenge, did not improve Brienne’s opinion of him in the slightest. “I’m sure you’ve heard great things about me.”

“No, not really,” Brienne retorted, straight-faced.

Jaime’s interest was piqued, a lion scenting blood. “Oh, but you have heard of me?”

“No,” Brienne lied. She usually never lied but didn’t want to stroke this man’s ego any further. “I’ve never heard of you in my life.”

He laughed at her deadpan proclamation. “You are a little liar, but I guess I can’t call you little. You’re more of a giant liar. It’s okay; you can admit you’ve been trying to emulate me.” The malice in his voice when he spoke the last statement shocked her, as if trying to imitate him was the worst life choice a person could make. When he spoke again to her, his voice was back to normal. “Anyway, welcome to the Extradition squad. Today we are transporting Bartholomew ‘The Bear’ Mormont from the city jail to Kings Landing minimum-security prison. The Bear love his heroin, but the Kings Landing PD hate him selling it to minors. He has been sentenced to seven years’ incarceration, but I guarantee he will be back on the streets in about two and a half. This is the dazzling life of a member of the Extradition squad, traipsing criminals all over Kings Landing and then filling out numerous forms until your eyes bleed. Still want to tag along, kid, or would you rather go write some parking tickets?”

Brienne had known all the information from an email sent to her the previous night by Director Tarly, head of the police academy, but let Lannister talk. He seemed to be the type of man who chatted endlessly to deflect meaningful conversation. However, she piped up when he called her kid.

“I am not a kid, sir. I am twenty-two years old.”

“Ug, please don’t call me sir. My father is a sir, I am not, and you are most definitely a kid. Only kids say ‘I am not a kid.’ Though you are the most absurdly tall child I’ve ever seen.”

“I’m six foot three, tall but by no means a monster.” She glanced at Lannister’s long, trouser clad legs. Though seated, they seemed to stretch on forever. If not for his artfully messy locks, Jaime Lannister could have modeled for a recruitment poster. He was athletic-looking, with a sharp stare and chiseled features. “You must be close to that height, too.”

His smile was lazy as he watched her assess his body, and she began to blush. Whatever you do, do not look at his crotch. With force, she focused her eyes back on his face. His smile was stunning; a peek of his perfectly straight, white teeth causing her to alternately fantasize punching him in the mouth and kissing him.
“So kid, what was your name again?”

She sighed, long suffering. “Brienne Tarth.”

“Do you mean like the little island of Tarth off the coast?”

She was surprised he knew of her home. “Yes, I grew up there.”

“Interesting,” Lannister replied, sounding anything but. Despite her earlier lie, she did know a lot about Jaime Lannister and his family. The Lannister family had lived in Kings Landing for a long time, and it was a small place, so the fact that he knew Tarth should not have astounded her. “I didn’t take you for an heiress. Why leave an island your family was named for?”

“I left to become a police officer.”

“Congratulations on leaving an island paradise for such a noble profession.” His words dripped sarcasm like melting ice cream, leaving a sticky, unpleasant film over their conversation.

She shot him a look of aversion. “You are a disgruntled old man,” she told him, ire creeping into her voice.

“Don’t worry,” he said, laughing at her display of temper. “We will be to the prison soon. We can drop off this loser and I will take you home, and you never have to see me again.”

“Good.”

“Yes, good. I can’t wait to tell my father about the fascinating cadet I met today from Tarth.”

Brienne turned her whole body in the seat. “Is that a threat? Because I sassed you and didn’t like your pessimism, you would run to your father and tell him something negative about me? I have heard of you, Lannister, most of it was unkind, but I did hear that you were a good cop, and you didn’t rely on your father’s success. I guess people just like to embellish their stories about you, because they’re grievously mistaken.”

She had angered him. His brows knit together over his dark green eyes, and he struggled to keep his gaze on the road as they turned onto the drive that would take them to the unloading dock of the prison. “I don’t run to my father about anything. I was kidding. You have no sense of humor.”

“When it comes to my job and my future, no I don’t have a sense of humor. I’m not an heir, as you insinuated, my family isn’t wealthy like yours. I don’t appreciate you making veiled threats, real or otherwise. I work hard and I’m here to learn something, but so far all I’ve learned is you’re an asshole who sucks at their job.”

They pulled up to the prison. Jaime barely put the parking brake on before they both jumped out, rounding the back of the van at top speed, neither willing to end their quarrel. Brienne usually did not engage in arguments, especially with men like Jaime Lannister, who obviously wouldn’t be satisfied without the last word. Normally she would regret fighting someone like him, but the argument was making her blood sing.

They stood toe to toe, the air between them charged, and she found she had been correct, he was almost of a height with her. Both stood as tall as they could, a pissing contest, trying to gain the physical advantage because neither could gain the verbal one. Brienne pondered what the guards at the doors a few yards away must be thinking, seeing two officers scramble out of a police van and practically tackle each other. The scant few inches of air between them rippled with tension.

“I’m good at what I do, and I do not ride my father’s coattails. I’m my own man. There are no men like me.”

“You don’t seem very special, “Brienne bated maliciously. “In fact, you seem just like every other self-inflated loser I’ve ever met.”

He gave her a long look, trying to see something beyond what she was willing to show him. “You know lots of quality men?” he inquired snidely. “With a face like that I doubt it very much.”

“Go ahead, Lannister, make a joke about how ugly I am. Is that your only insult? I’ve heard it before, and it’s boring, just like you.”

“You are a piece of work. I’m far from boring, kid. Everyone loves to say I got the job because of my father, but I would never ask for his help, with anything. Now shut your mouth and learn how to escort a prisoner.” His hand grasped the door handle.

The back door of the van swung wide, narrowly missing Lannister’s head, and knocking Brienne back. Jaime made a grab for the door to push it closed, but the Bear was on him, jumping from the van and slamming his body weight straight into Jaime’s, sending them both sprawling onto the pavement inside the prison gates. Jaime struggled to return to his feet, but the Bear used his body like a battering ram, tackling him. Brienne recovered her balance and was about to jump in when both men froze. The Bear held a needle to Jaime’s throat.

“You fucking idiots,” the Bear screamed at her. He had the wild eyed, desperate look of a junkie craving a high, his course, greasy brown hair matted and dirty. The reek of sweat invaded her nose, and the cloying scent of terror radiating from his body caused Brienne a moment of blind panic. Who knew what was inside the syringe? How had he slipped it past the officers who patted him down and hauled him into the van at the city jail? The Bear grabbed Jaime’s hair and roughly pulled him to his feet.

Suddenly, all her training kicked in, slowing her heart rate and narrowing her field of vision. “What can I do to help you?” Brienne asked the Bear with deadly calm, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning against the van with deceptive indifference. Lannister’s eyes nearly bugged out of his head.

“Let me go or I will shove the needle straight into this fucker.” The Bear thought for a moment. “And money. I want to walk out of here and I want money. Get rid of those assholes with the guns.” He motioned at the guards who had sprung into action too late and were now hovering nearby with guns trained on them, not daring to shoot.

“Okay,” Brienne said. “I don’t have much money on me, since I’m technically just a student, but I’ll give you what’s in my wallet. We can’t wait for those guys over there,” she gestured to the guards. “They won’t give you money. I will. You need to let this detective go. Then you can take me, instead, as hostage until you get through the gates. They wouldn’t shoot if you were holding me. They might not care about shooting another officer, he would be hurt in the line of duty, which is normal, but they wouldn’t want the bad publicity of hurting a citizen. Now, I have to reach into my pocket to get my wallet. Is that okay?”

The Bear nodded, pressing the syringe closer to Jaime’s neck and eyeing Brienne like a wild animal caught in a trap. Jaime’s eyes burned into her, assessing her, trying to determine if she was a mastermind or insane. She prayed to the seven that she was the former.

She reached slowly into her pocket and removed her wallet, opening it to show him three crisp twenty-dollar bills tucked inside. “It’s all I have but it’s yours. I’ll hand it to you, you just release my friend, and you and I can walk out of here. No one has to get hurt.”

Brienne had no idea why the Bear would believe her, but he did. He left the syringe at Jaime’s throat but reached out with his other hand, releasing the death grip on Jaime’s golden hair to grab at the money. She was on him. Wasting no time, she hit him from the right side, grabbing the arm reaching for the wallet, twisting it back behind him and jamming it upwards. She could hear something tear as Jaime threw his weight onto the left side. The Bear howled.

Uniforms were rushing forward as the three of them crashed to the pavement, Jaime landing on the bottom of the pile. The guards were upon them, dragging the Bear away and cuffing him as he growled and pawed the ground. It had all happened so fast. Brienne fell back onto her butt in shock.

Jaime lay sprawled on the ground after the officers took away the Bear, his gaze locked with Brienne’s, holding it. His pupils had blown wide, huge and unseeing of their surroundings. Absurdly, she felt as if they were the only people who existed in the world. The nape of Brienne’s neck prickled as something unspoken passed between them, something she did not understand. Their eyes remained fastened on each other until one of the remaining guards cleared his throat.

Two guards were hovering over them, insisting Jaime and Brienne go to the infirmary and receive medical attention. Jaime reached up and gingerly touched his neck where the syringe had been moments before. His fingers came away without any blood, but he still winced. “I’m fine,” he said, still keeping green eyes linked with Brienne’s blue ones. The guards did not want to argue with him and gladly meandered away. Jaime scrambled to his feet, holding his hand out to help Brienne up.

Brienne felt almost manic with the rush of adrenaline at her quick thinking, the validation of feeling like a true cop, a good cop, for the first time in her life.

“You really protected me there, kid,” Lannister told her as he ushered her back into the van. “You thought fast on your feet, and were brave. You’re a hell of a cop.”

“I’m not a cop yet,” she said, self-consciously pleased with his praise.

“You don’t have a badge yet,” he corrected.

“Lannister, are you actually complimenting me?”

“Don’t make a big thing out of it,” he said with a slight smile. “Listen, I was so engrossed in our fight I didn’t pay attention to anything else. I could’ve gotten us seriously hurt. I’m sorry.”

Brienne was touched by the sincerity in his voice, but unsure if it was truly genuine. “Like you said, don’t make a big thing out of it.” He started the van and they rode for a time in silence, Brienne replaying the scuffle in her mind and feeling the fervor of Jaime’s gaze. Before she knew it, they were parking in front of her apartment.

“Well…” she began, not sure what to say to a man she had instantly disliked, then turned around and saved his ass.

Jaime rubbed a hand over his neck, absentmindedly feeling the spot where the needle had come dangerously close to puncturing. “It’s out of line, but I don’t have to be back at the prescient for a while, and I think my back might have gotten scrapped up in the skirmish. Could I come in and wash up? Check myself over for any damage?”

“Oh,” Brienne said, “um, sure.” She led him up to her second floor apartment, though she did not like her sanctuary breeched, especially by someone she was not sure she trusted. She timidly unlocked the door to her small dwelling, which consisted of a living room, one bedroom and a tiny kitchen and bathroom. She shot glances at Jaime, wondering what he thought of her place.

He quickly looked around, taking in her sparse furniture and lively décor. “I’ll just take a moment to clean up,” he told her. She pointed him toward the bathroom and watched him walk down the hall, and then set about tiding the already clean kitchen so her hands would stay busy.

“Hey!” He called, after being gone about a minute. “Do you have any type of medicine for cuts?”

She found Jaime Lannister standing shirtless in her bathroom, his back covered in shallow scrapes. “It looks worse than it is,” he told her when he noted the alarm on her face, “but I want to get it cleaned up just in case.”

The bathroom was so small she couldn’t avoid brushing up against him to reach the medicine cabinet. She dug around and pulled out a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, holding it out to him. “This will burn like hell, but it will do the trick.”

He grimaced. “Would you help? I can’t reach most of my back.”

Brienne swallowed hard. She didn’t comment, just grabbed a clean washcloth and soaked it in warm water from the sink. The bathroom felt like it was the size of a phone booth as she moved toward him. Before he turned away from her, she got a good look at his wide chest, covered by a layer of blond hair that trailed down the center of his stomach muscles and disappeared into the waistband of his trousers. His body was that of a warrior, she thought, all power and potency and two-percent body fat. As he sat on the edge of her bath with his feet resting inside the tub, she cleaned away the small amount of blood surrounding the scrapes with water, and then applied the peroxide. The breath hissed through his teeth at the sting and she watched the muscles in his shoulders flex. His skin burned under her fingers, and she had to remind herself there was nothing sexual about touching him.

“Thanks,” he murmured when she finished. She tossed the washcloth into the sink and he slid around to face her. Sitting on the tub left him eye level with her chest, and it took a second for his gaze to meet hers. For a moment, the buzzing of the fluorescent light over the mirror was ear piercing, and the air took on a strange density, almost too thick to breath. “I didn’t notice before,” he whispered, “but you have really pretty eyes.” She quickly sat herself beside him, careful not to make contact with his skin again.

He looked over at her. “I want us to start over, kid.”

“My name is Brienne,” she stubbornly responded.

“I want us to start over, Brienne. I’m sorry I was rude to you. I was out of line earlier. I do many of those ride-alongs, and most cadets I meet are bratty little shits who want to score points with my father. I wrongly assumed you were going to be another one, but you’re not. You’re different. You’re gutsy, and I think you are going to make a great cop. You were right; I was throwing my father’s name in your face.”

“Thank you,” she replied, finally making eye contact with him again. “I can do that, Lannister, I can start over. I was wrong, too. I shouldn’t have called you names. Here is to starting over.” She stuck out her hand for him to shake, even though they were at an odd and awkward angle.

“Jaime,” he prompted. “Please call me Jaime.”

“Let’s start over, Jaime,” she said softly. He grinned, his disheveled hair falling into his eyes like a young boy, and took her hand in his. Brienne felt another pleasant tremor go up her arm. She was in trouble.

“Once you get to know me,” he said, “you can call me all the names you like.” She laughed. He reached down for the discarded clothes at their feet and started to dress himself. Once his shirt and suit jacket were on, she walked him to the front door. He paused in the entryway and leaned toward her. Absurdly, she thought he might kiss her, and she leaned back in alarm. His hooded eyes raked her face, but he spoke instead. “A woman who will go into battle for you and keep your back is rare and special. I really hope we can be friends, Brienne. It’s nice to have people you can trust. See you around.”

After Jaime departed, she wandered around her apartment as if emerging from a daze until her phone rang. “Yes?” she answered.

“How was it?” Hyle probed without preamble. “What was the worst thing he said? What was the most horrid name he called you?”

She thought for a moment. “He called me ugly, but then we fought the Bear and he told me I had pretty eyes,” she answered.

“Uh… Am I missing something?” Hyle asked, incredulously.

“Yes.” Her laughter, when it came, was wild and irrepressible. Hyle didn’t ask her any more questions.

***

Brienne was not quick to make friends, which was why she found her bond with Jaime Lannister so baffling. It was as if on that first day, they planted seeds of friendship, and a garden began to grow despite her severe lack of a green thumb.

Brienne assumed, despite his petition for friendship, that she wouldn’t hear much from Jaime after the incident with the Bear, but to her surprise he consistently contacted her, inquiring about academy and about her life. By habit, at first she was suspicious of his comradeship, but soon found her heart soaring when Jaime’s name showed up in her list of text messages and missed calls. It was a new sensation for her, but one she found herself unable to fight. She quickly grew to care for Jaime and was happy they became friends. If she found her thoughts drifting toward silly romantic contemplations, she immediately squashed them. She convinced herself it was normal to be aware of someone so handsome and charismatic. Besides, Jaime would never consider her in the romantic sense, as she was homely and gangly. His type, she assumed, would be super-model pretty girls, gentle girls who didn’t stomp around, girls with long, fragrant flowing hair and tender skin. She was only interested in his friendship, she vowed to herself, and nothing more.

***

“Sometimes I catch Jaime and Sansa watching me, and all I can think is that they see me as some pathetic victim, and Ronnet a demented monster. Then, other times, I imagine they see me as monstrous.”

“What do you see, Brienne? Do you see the victim, the monster or someone else?”

When she opened her mouth to speak, the intake of breath was needed more to hold back tears. “I think, if someone sets out to hurt you, you have a right to protect yourself no matter how. I am no one’s victim.”

“I don’t doubt that for a second, but you are also not a monster. If we assign the term monster to you, or to Ronnet Connington or to anyone, we take away their humanity. We allow someone an excuse for their appalling actions, so we can close our eyes to the awfulness that regular human beings can accomplish, and absolve them of their crimes. It is easier for us to dehumanize someone, and somehow explain away his or her actions. We give ourselves an excuse not to understand.”

Brienne was defeated. “You couldn’t understand, Dr. Meribald. I love Jaime and Sansa, but they couldn’t understand either, no matter how hard they try. No one could understand unless they had been there and even then…”

***

 

Once upon a time, Brienne was hyper-aware of malignant intent, and knew how to handle being the object of malice. Most often, she could give as well as she got, but the last few months had slowed her reaction time. Her friendship with Jaime threw her off her game, she would tell herself later. It made her gullible, too trusting of others, where in the past she maintained her guard. Jaime’s bizarre aspiration to be her friend did not equate to everyone coveting her acquaintance, and she should have remembered that.

She sat across from Hyle in the cafeteria of the academy building and pulled out her bagged lunch. Hyle was reluctant to make trivial conversation that day, so Brienne assumed his distraction was apprehension over their law final the following morning. As she chewed her ham-sandwich, several cadets passed by their table and greeted her, which she found odd but dismissed. Not many of her fellow classmates initiated conversation with her unless it specifically related to training. Hyle had been the exception.

The silence was so soothing that she almost forgot the brownies Ronnet Connington had handed to her earlier that day. Most of the men in academy were jerks; Hyle had told her most of the men talked about her behind her back, but she had known how they would act before she stepped foot in the academy as the only female recruit that session. Ronnet was the worst of them all, always making offhand, passive aggressive comments about her masculinity. He had had several Ziploc bags of brownies with him that morning, bragging to his friends how lucky he was that his hot new girlfriend gave fantastic blowjobs and could bake like a pastry chef. She avoided Ronnet whenever possible, so when he handed Brienne a bag, she took it to circumvent having to converse with him. The boys in class scarfed the brownies and complimented Ronnet on his taste in women, but she had put her bag away, planning to toss them as soon as Ron was out of sight.

She pulled the brownies out of her bag and put them on the table next to her water. She would admit it to no one, but she was curious to see if the baked goods were as delectable as the men had declared. She pulled one of the brownies out of the bag and opened her mouth to take a bite. Hyle made a distressing noise.

She locked gazes with him, and he quickly looked away. “What?” she asked.

“Don’t eat it,” he whispered. His eyes were darting around the cafeteria, never settling in one place. She slowly set the brownie down on the table.

“Why shouldn’t I eat it?” Hyle was agitated but silent. “Hyle,” she said a bit louder, “why shouldn’t I eat it?”

“They put something in it, but you didn’t hear that from me.” He stood to leave, his chair scraping the floor a deafening sound in her ears. Brienne’s blue eyes were as big as dinner plates. She stood too, drawing attention to them. Hyle looked desperate to flee but stayed rooted to the spot, and finally his hazel eyes snapped back to her.
“I saw other people eat them. What did he put in them?” she beseeched.

Hyle looked ill. “Only yours,” he mouthed. It was Brienne’s turn to look sick. She turned away, scanning the cafeteria for Ronnet’s red hair. He was sitting at a table across the way, watching her with a sadistic smile splitting his face. “Don’t!” Hyle warned, but her long legs were already carrying her toward the brut and his sexist gang, rage fueling her pace, making her movements jerky and stunted.

She stopped a hairs breath before him, so close she could smell his cheap, woodsy aftershave. He had recently taken to removing his red beard after the other cadets started telling him he looked like he had pubic hair plastered to his face.

“Ron, I wanted to compliment your new girlfriend on her baking skills.” Fury made her voice high and shrill, and a couple of the people at the table sniggered behind their hands. “What’s her secret ingredient?”

Ronnet’s laugh slithered over her skin. “Oh, a little of this and a little of that.” She was so weary of men and their sadistic idea of comedy. He was smug and hateful; Brienne wanted to punch him, but assaulting another officer, even in academy, was as dishonorable as stabbing someone in the back. Instead of hitting him, she lowered her head to his. She thought she saw apprehension flash in his eyes at her lumbering form towering over him, but couldn’t be sure. “Laugh again,” she dared him. He looked bemused. Pulling the fiercest face she could muster, she made eye contact one by one with all the men at the table. “Laugh,” she challenged them, “laugh!”

Ronnet reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out a crumpled scrap of paper. He handed it to her. Touching it made her feel filthy. She straightened out the creases, and the contents written on it turned her stomach.

Urine X-lax Pubic hair
Spit Semen

Before she could govern her emotions, Brienne’s hand stole out and slapped Ronnet hard across the face. His smirk disappeared and anger tightened the corners of his mouth.

“Don’t touch me, bitch,” he hissed.

“No!” she yelled, louder than she had intended. She lowered her voice to a menacing murmur. “If you come near me again, you will be sorry. You won’t be laughing then.”

She turned and rushed from the cafeteria, bursting through the doors. Silence followed her down the hallway and toward the stairwell. She moved toward the office of Randyll Tarly, Director of the training academy, with the repulsive list clutched in her grip like a deadly weapon.

She knocked impatiently at Tarly’s door until he called for her to enter. Tarly was tall and slim, though not as tall as Brienne. The top of his bald head gleamed under the florescent light of his office. His mouth was a hard, thin line in his greying beard. He frowned at Brienne standing before him, her chest heaving, her eyes flashing with rage. “What can I do for you, Cadet?” Brienne suddenly felt very young. She was not an articulate person on the best of days, and she was far from eloquent when angry. Even so, she tried her best to explain to Tarly what had just transpired in the cafeteria. His frown deepened when she finished.

“What do you hope to gain, from telling me this?” he asked her.

“I want you to p-punish him. Ronnet could make someone sick by feeding them such awful....” she couldn’t complete her sentence.

“I will talk to him and I will deal with it. However, first I am going to deal with you.”

“You are going to deal with me?” She was perplexed.

“Yes, Cadet Tarth. You are a woman, so I don’t expect you to understand that boys will be boys. It was a prank, a bit of sport. This sort of mischief happens every training session.” Brienne seriously doubted that, and worried for any other female cadets who had, or shortly would, pass through the academy. “A woman being here encourages men to act dishonorably. If you are going to make it as a woman cop, you need to toughen up or get out. If you can’t handle a simple prank, perhaps you should consider that you may not have what it takes for this job.”

Brienne was stunned into silence. She hadn’t done anything wrong, Ronnet had. This was madness. She was by far the best recruit in the academy. She worked harder than any of the men to prove she was worthy, and after she came to him for help, Tarly questioned her right to be there based on her sex. To her horror, Tarly continued. “You’ve had a taste of what it’s like. Be thankful it wasn’t a good hard raping, though the relegation would benefit some women. Moreover, I don’t want you getting revenge ideas in your head. Let it go. I don’t want to hear of you inciting any more drama. Now, go home, I’ll excuse you from classes for the rest of the day, and I will speak with Cadet Connington.”

Brienne was shaking so bad she feared her teeth would chatter.

“Is there some other problem, Cadet Tarth?” Tarly challenged when she didn’t instantly vacate his office.

“No, sir, there’s nothing else. I apologize for bothering you and I will go home now, sir,”

“That’s better. Tarth?”

“Yes?”

“Shut the door on your way out.”

***

 

“Randyll Tarly’s comment to you was disgusting. What made you choose not to report him?” It was another chill and rainy day outside; a few degrees cooler and the rain would be snow. Winter is coming, was the saying people quoted when the weather turned cold and bitter. What was the adage when winter transformed into spring?

Brienne wavered on the decision, ultimately persuading herself not to report Randyll Tarly. She was a woman trying to break into a male dominated career. She didn’t want the reputation of a snitch trying to cause distress in the academy. Tarly, for reasons unforeseeable to Brienne, had the respect of Tywin Lannister, and she hadn’t been certain anyone would believe her. These reservations also kept her from telling Jaime, who had been her friend for only a few months.

“Words are wind,” she retorted.

Her remark gave Dr. Meribald pause. He was a man of many words, Brienne learned, but he chose them wisely. He sat back in his chair and scrutinized her, turning the expression over in his mind.

Finally, he alleged, “Words can be wind, if we do not take them to heart. What do words become if we accept them as truth?”

“They become a prophecy.”

Dr. Meribald contemplated her reaction. “Did you believe Randyll Tarly’s words, Brienne?”

“If you had asked me before, I would have venomously denied.”

“Do you believe them now?”

Brienne couldn’t look him in the eye, so she turned her face to the window and watched the rain rinse away the winter. If only it could wash away her sorrow.

***

 

“Your boyfriend is sitting in the audience,” Hyle mockingly whispered to her as they made their way to their assigned seats for graduation.

“For the last time, he is not my boyfriend,” she hissed. “His father is the Chief of Police and is speaking at our ceremony. Jaime is probably here to support him,” Brienne replied, ignoring the irrationally fast speed of her heart at Hyle’s mention of Jaime, and her small fib. She hadn’t known Jaime for long, but she knew with certainty that he would not come to see his father. It was a strained relationship, and he didn’t even like people to mention their connection. She willed herself not to scan the audience, but failed miserably. Her eyes caught Jaime observing her. He raised his hand in mock salute, and she scowled back at him, making his eyes crinkle in laughter.

She passed Ronnet as she headed to her seat. His face turned hard and cold when he noticed her. Brienne felt a shiver travel unbidden down her spine, but she shook it off. She hoped that she wouldn’t have to see him again after today.

After the graduation ceremony, Jaime made his way to where she and Hyle were standing. Hyle gave her a suffering look and walked away before Jaime arrived at her side. “Congratulations, Officer Tarth. Was that kid your boyfriend?” Jaime asked.

She scowled at him again. “No.”

“That’s good, because he looks like a weasel. Now, let’s go get a drink to celebrate your graduation.”

“Jaime, it’s not even noon, we can’t drink this early, and my father is here. We are going to go have lunch.”

“Tarth, you are making this friendship thing very difficult. We fought the Bear together; we deserve to have some fun.”

I fought the Bear; you were a damsel in distress, just sitting on your ass looking pretty.”

“So you think I’m pretty?” He smirked. She playfully punched him in the stomach. “Okay, I give up. We will have a drink Friday night instead. Don’t say no this time.” Brienne shook her head and walked away from him. “See you Friday,” he yelled at her back.

***

“Was Hyle remorseful about his part in the ‘prank’?”

Anger rose up like a wave, crashing over her thoughts of Hyle and their subsequent falling out. “I didn’t realize the extent of his involvement at first. I do believe he was regretful, but once I learned about his contribution to the prank, I refused to acknowledge Hyle’s remorse. I’ve been contemplating trying to mend the break between us, but forgiveness is not an action with which I am accustomed.”

“Absolving those who hurt us is difficult, but so is condemnation. It is exhausting. Do you agree?”

“Are you suggesting I forgive Ronnet?”

“I would never tell you to do such a thing. I’m suggesting you forgive yourself.”

***

Brienne’s tenure as a patrol officer was a whirlwind. She shadowed a veteran officer by the name of Goodwin who saw her potential and gave her good advice, treating her like an equal. She picked up every overtime shift she could, and developed a respectable rapport with her fellow officers.

Jaime relentlessly called her an overachiever and a workhorse, but she didn’t mind. They met every few weeks to catch up over drinks or dinner, and he occasionally joined her at the gym to workout. They chatted about police work and Jaime shared a bit of his family history with her. She told him about her home, shared the pain of losing her father when he died suddenly of a heart attack that summer, and told him about trying to turn her childhood dreams of becoming a detective into reality. Their friendship was a pleasant constant in her life.

To her relief, Ronnet Connington ended up at a different precinct. Kings Landing was small and there had been a considerable chance she’d work with him again. She was loath to admit it, but the thought of having to work with him scared her. Her fear made her uneasy. Brienne didn’t like to be afraid.

***

“I have something to tell you,” Jaime said while they were doing dishes. He was washing, she was drying- their usual routine after their weekly dinners. Irrationally, Brienne thought he was going to tell her that he was dating someone. She spent a lot of time with Jaime and he never seemed to have a girlfriend, so she had been waiting for the inevitable. She was mad at herself for feeling so jealous. “It may change how you think of me.”

This gave her pause. “What is it?”

He wasn’t proud of it, but his father had pulled a few strings for him on the job. Prior to becoming a cop, Jaime Lannister had a record. Jaime and his twin sister- whom, he had previously admitted was a serious drug addict attending rehab in the east- had done something shameful.

At age fourteen, Jaime and his sister Cersei had gotten high and stolen a car. During their joy ride, they struck a ten-year-old boy.

“What happened?” she asked.

“The boy lived, but is paralyzed from the waist down. Because I was underage, my record was sealed. Father shipped Cersei off to her first round of rehab, and I did community service. Part of my salary goes to the boys care. He is in a wheelchair for life.” Brienne had never seen Jaime look as miserable as he did recounting that story. “I can never make up for what I did. I got this idea in my head that if I became a cop, I could somehow atone for my sins. Normally, a person with a record, juvenile or not, is disqualified from applying to academy, but my father shuffled some paperwork. I should have admitted it sooner, but you are so honorable, I didn’t know if you would trust me after I told you.”

Brienne put down her towel and threw her arm around his neck, causing Jaime stumble back with the force of her embrace, but he quickly stole his arms around her. “You did harm, Jaime, but you have done a lot of good since then. You became a police officer to protect those who can’t protect themselves. You atone for your actions every day, which I consider honorable. I trust you.”

Jaime didn’t stop their embrace straightaway, and Brienne tried to ignore the spike of her pulse. Jaime was a very physical person; she should have been used to his touch by now.

“I don’t deserve your acceptance. That’s why I jumped down your throat in the van that first day, when you brought up my father. He never lets me forget that I wouldn’t have this job if it weren’t for him. I vowed to be the best cop I could be, and never ask him for anything again. So far, I’ve kept my promise to myself. It will be a dark day before I go to him for anything.”

“I understand,” she whispered as he finally let her go, though she didn’t really understand. She should be outraged that Jaime’s father had bent the rules. Yet how could she be angry when that simple act had brought Jaime into her life? And, until a few seconds ago, into her arms. Brienne’s existence was easy when she kept things mundane, black and white. Jaime Lannister had painted her life a vibrant, confusing red and gold.

***

 

Brienne spent two years on patrol before the Chief of Police called her into his office. That day Tywin Lannister promoted her to detective, the youngest cadet ever to earn the honor. Her hard work was paying off, and her dreams were coming true. She desperately wished her father lived to hear the news. She would tell him his fears for her had been unfounded, that she would be okay now that she was a detective.

Unable to keep a goofy smile from her face, she was shaking Tywin Lannister’s hand when he proclaimed, “My son has specifically requested you be his partner on the Extradition squad. I don’t usually do this kind of thing, but you have an exceptional work ethic and I believe you could be good for him. You have proven yourself a valuable asset to the force. I will allow you tonight to think it over, and if you want to be partners with Jaime, call my office tomorrow. If not, we will put you in the floater pool until a squad opens.”

Brienne was barely out of the Tywin Lannister’s office when she had Jaime on the phone. “You requested me as your partner?”

“I absolutely did.”

“Jaime, you swore you wouldn’t ask your father for anything! It’s a point of pride for you. Why would you go against your vow?”

“I do crazy things for the people I care about. It was worth breaking a vow, if I get to work with you.”

Brienne sighed. “Are you certain you want me as your partner? You would be indebted to your father…”

“We will work well together. It’s going to be excellent, and worth it.”

“Those are bold statements, Lannister. What if I already told your father I refused?”

“Come on, Tarth, be realistic. No one could ever refuse me. You’ve seen my face.” She chuckled. She had seen it, sometimes in her dreams, but Jaime didn’t need to know that. She was thankful he couldn’t see her blush over the phone. Jaime’s voice turned serious. “Where are you right now?”

“I just left your fathers office, and am heading home, and before you ask, no I don’t want to go get a drink. I have to go to the gym.”

“Actually, I was wondering if I could stop by your place. I have something I want to talk to you about before you make your decision. You haven’t actually made your decision yet, have you?”

His tone was making Brienne nervous. “You can come over. Is it bad?”

“No, it’s not bad. I will see you in a few minutes.” He was waiting at her apartment when she finally walked up. “With your new detective salary you can finally buy a car and not take the bus everywhere.”

“The bus doesn’t bother me. You are just a public transportation snob.” She let him in and got them each a glass of ice water. Jaime, she knew, would prefer a beer but if they started drinking he would never leave, and she would miss the gym twice that week. “What did you want to discuss with me, Jaime?”

“I really do want you as my partner, Brienne, but I know that being partners with me won’t be easy. My father being commissioner adds a whole layer of pressure to the decision. People will be scrutinizing you, unfairly assuming my father is doling out favoritism to you because you are my partner. You’ve worked too hard to prove yourself, and it bothers me to know some of the shit people throw at me might hit you. You seek truth and you fight for justice- that is what the job is. With your credentials, you could place in a better unit. It’s selfish of me to want to work with you. I want your idealism to wear off on me.

“So, now that you’ve heard all the reason that being my partner is a horrible idea, I want you to know that if you would rather decline my father’s offer, I will understand.”

She leveled her gaze at him. “Jaime, I told your father I didn’t need the night to think it over. I would be honored to be your partner.”

Jaime’s face radiated joy; his beauty stole her breath. He raised his glass of water in the air. “Cheers to us! Here’s to Detective’s Tarth and Lannister!” Normal women dreamed of weddings and babies, but to Brienne, this was the dream come true.

She touched her glass to Jaime’s, and their partnership began.

***

 

Jaime and Brienne were natural partners, and fell into an easy rhythm, quickly gaining the respect of their squad. Brienne had prepared herself for questions and rumblings about Jaime’s history, but he had been wrong when he assumed that his family or his past would be what incited speculation. To her astonishment, the rampant rumors were that Jaime and Brienne were sleeping together.

“This is insanity. How can they believe that? They see us standing side by side, don’t they? Don’t they know you think I’m unattractive? Gods, it was the first words you ever spoke to me!”

“Brienne, please stop. It’s all very predictable. I’m a man, you’re a woman, and we spend almost all our time together. Naturally, people are going to think we are screwing. Don’t worry, I tell everyone who asks that you are fantastic.”

Brienne punched him in the arm.

He turned serious. “It’s easy, how we are together. No one understands it. Sometimes I don’t even understand it. It just is.” He reached out affectionately and cupped her chin, his thumb resting on the corner of her mouth. It just is, she thought, her heart hammering, but it isn’t easy.

***

Two years after Brienne and Jaime became partners, Hyle made detective for the sex crimes unit, and they went out to celebrate his success. After much complaining, Jaime and Hyle had grudgingly accepted each other. Brienne and Hyle sat at the bar discussing Hyle’s new partner, a spunky northern girl named Alys Karstark, while Jaime and Podrick, a young detective from the Missing Persons squad that Brienne had befriended, ordered the next round.

“I’m going to enjoy working with Alys. She’s pretty hot,” Hyle informed Brienne.

“You are disgusting,” Brienne denounced. “You can’t be interested in your partner. It’s not professional.”

“You’re right, Brienne. No one in the history of police work has ever been attracted to his or her partner. It’s wrong.” He raised his eyebrows and lowered his voice, his tone dripping sarcasm.

“I’m not attracted to Jaime,” she hissed, darting a glance down the bar to ensure said male was a safe distance away. She saw he was paying and knew she didn’t have much time. “You’re always implying there is something between us, but we are just friends. There are no feelings there, except platonic ones.” Hyle hummed his disbelief. A moment later Jaime and Pod returned and distributed beverages.

“What did we miss?” Jaime asked.

Hyle shot Brienne a wicked glance and opened his mouth to speak, but Brienne cut him off by panicking and loudly stating, “Alys Karstark is hot!” Jaime barked out a surprised laugh and innocent Podrick blushed to the roots of his hair.

Brienne lived within walking distance of the bar, so when Hyle celebrated too hard and fell off his barstool, she and Jaime ended up bringing him back to her place. Thought they didn’t broadcast it, Jaime spent a few nights a week at Brienne’s tiny apartment in Duskendale sleeping on the couch, often staying over after he had driven her home from a late work night. Jaime had stayed so often that he left a set of sleeping clothes at her place. The three stayed up chatting for a while, but as the clock slipped past two, Brienne expressed her wish to go to sleep, and Jaime’s offer of pajamas to Hyle started a litany of questions.

“So you sleep here?” Hyle asked.

“Yes,” Jaime answered.

“How often do you stay?”

“About three or four times a week.”

“Why don’t you just move in?”

“I have my own place. It’s just easy to crash here.”

“You sleep in bed with Brienne?”

“No, he sleeps on the couch,” Brienne replied, flustered. “Can we please go to sleep?”

As usual, Hyle completely ignored Brienne. “Are you dating?”

“We are not dating,” Jaime and Brienne said in unison.

Hyle eyed them suspiciously. “Are you screwing?”

Brienne glowered at him. If looks could kill, Hyle would be hanging from a tree.

“You people are fucking weird,” Hyle declared, then rolled over and buried his face into the pillow Brienne had supplied him. Jaime and Brienne looked at each other and shrugged, then headed into her bedroom.

They hadn’t been lying. Jaime always spent the night on her couch, and this would be the first time they shared a bed. Even though it seemed like they spent most of their time touching in some way- a hand on a thigh, an arm slung around a shoulder, or an occasional hug-Brienne suddenly found her queen-sized mattress dauntingly small for two tall, broad individuals. Jaime stripped down to his boxers and tee shirt, and Brienne wiggled into her extra-large sleeping shirt, self-consciously tugging on the hem. “Nice legs, Tarth,” Jaime teased when he noticed her discomfort.

“Shut up,” she lightheartedly uttered. They were standing on either side of the bed, staring at each other.

“Ladies first,” Jaime said with a mock bow. Brienne slid under the covers and Jaime lay down next to her, curling himself around her back and throwing his arm over her waist. When his cold fingers pressed against her abdomen, Brienne hissed.

“You are freezing,” she whispered.

“That asshole Hyle has my pajamas,” Jaime retorted, promoting Hyle to shout, “I can hear you!” from the living room.

“Go to sleep!” Brienne yelled at the top of her lungs. Jaime and Hyle both crowed.

From then on, whenever Jaime spent the night, he slept in bed with Brienne.

***

 

“What was Ronnet like, in academy?” Dr. Meribald asked. Her stomach clenched.

“He was constructed,” she answered. The doctor furrowed his brows, not understanding her statement. “I mean, like an actor’s costume; under the lights it looks good, but in the dark its deadly simple. He was lewd and unpleasant, but never within notice of authority. He was charismatic, not in the same way as Jaime, but people liked him. They were taken in by him, not realizing he was fake.”

“Did you like him at first?”

“No.”

“Why didn’t you like him?”

“I don’t know how to describe it without sounding crazy. I distrusted him from the moment I saw him.” This explanation would not hold up in court, Brienne knew. Dr. Meribald was trying to help her turn feelings into tangible words she would need on the witness stand. She tried again, speaking from the heart. “When Ronnet was in the room, his presence almost had a smell, strong and sour-sweet, that snaked inside your skull with obscene subtlety, making the hair on the back of your neck stiffen.” How else could she explain the disquieted sensation she had tried to ignore? “All the other liars and criminals I’d known had been amateurs compared to him, the wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

Dr. Meribald jotted down notes, nodding his approval. “There are some mad people in this world, Brienne. You just described one perfectly.”

***

Monday morning squad meetings were always boring and uneventful, until the day Lieutenant Tyrell announced they would have their first new detective join the squad since Brienne. Everyone jolted from slouched indifference to full attention. Their squad was a small, tight knit group, and change didn’t often occur.

“I’d like everyone to warmly welcome our new detective, Ronnet Connington.”

Brienne had an expressive face that betrayed her every emotion. She tried to keep her face impassive when Ronnet walked into the room, but she knew she looked riled. Bile rose in her throat as she remembered and all the vicious taunts during academy, and his smug expression the day he had given her the polluted brownies. He had always left her with a feeling of restlessness, a vague sense of vulnerability. She thought she had escaped him after graduation. His walking into the squad room ruptured her private, peaceful world. Ronnet gave no indication that he saw or knew her, and made his way around the table making introductions and shaking hands. She felt Jaime put his hand on her leg under the table, trying to gain her attention. Normally Jaime’s touch would have sent a thrill through her, but her body had gone numb. He whispered to her, “The new guy has some horrifying red hair. Dare I speculate if the carpet matches the…?” Jaime trailed off when he noticed the pallor of Brienne’s face. “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen the Stranger.”

She shook her head, all knowledge of speech fleeing her mind as Ronnet stalked up to them, all charm directed at Jaime. “Detective Lannister, it’s nice to finally meet you. Your father is a reputable man and I am honored to serve on his force.”

“Thank you, I love chatting with people about my father.” Brienne rolled her eyes.

“I have an uncle, Jon Connington, who has served the Kings Landing PD for many years. Do you know him?” Ronnet was trying to impress Jaime by dropping the name, she could tell. Another Connington was news to Brienne, and she doubted it was good news.

“I can’t say that I do, but my father probably does. He knows everyone. I’ll be sure to ask him next time we talk.” Ronnet looked pleased, not realizing Jaime avoided his own father like the plague. “Welcome to the squad, Connington. This is my partner, Detective Tarth.”

Ronnet finally acknowledged her with an inscrutable look. “Hello Brienne.”

“Ronnet,” she spit.

Jaime looked surprised. “You two know each other?”

Ronnet turned a killer grin on Jaime, but the smarmy smile made her shudder. “Yes, Brienne and I were in academy together, but we weren’t friends.” He simpered. “She didn’t like my cooking.” Ron walked away to greet the other detectives.

Jaime was confused. “His cooking?”

“I’ll explain later,” Brienne mumbled. The conference room was settling down and the Monday meeting was getting underway. Jaime soon forgot his inquiry, as Brienne had hoped.

As the weeks progressed, Brienne did her best to avoid Ronnet, but one Friday afternoon he came up behind her as she was fixing a new pot of coffee in the tiny break room. Unfortunately, they were alone, and he had come eager for a fight. The look in his eyes was lethal. Without preamble he said, “You must have sucked a lot of dick to get yourself partners with the Police Chief’s son. I was under the impression you didn’t like the taste of cum.”

“I don’t have to resort to sexual favors. I got here because I’m a great cop.” She couldn’t resist baiting him. “And I never said I hated the taste of cum. I just had no interest in yours.” It surprised her that such a confident quip could emerge from such an otherwise shy personality.

She had angered him. “Oh, I see how it is. Is it only Lannister cock that appeals to you, or did that Kyle guy get you to blow him?”

“Kyle?” She was confused. “Oh, Hyle? Hyle Hunt?”

“Yeah, that guy. You must have been blowing him, since you stuck around with him after the whole prank. I should have just left his load in the batter and not added the others. Would that have made you happy?” Ronnet laughed.

“What?”

Ronnet looked triumphant. “Didn’t you know? Half the guys supplied some of the ingredients in those brownies. Hyle was one of the suppliers.”

Brienne’s heart was racing. “You are a disgusting liar.” But she was remembering Hyle’s agitation that day, the unease she had assigned to their law test and not questioned because he had warned her about the brownies. He had saved her, she thought. Yet how had he known?

“I’ve never been more truthful. If you two are still friendly, maybe you should go ask him. He was just nice to you because he thought he could wear you down and eventually fuck you. None of the other guys were that desperate.”

“I’ve heard enough,” Brienne stated.

“What are you going to do? Planning to run to Lieutenant Tyrell and tattle on me, like you ratted to Tarly?”

“Ronnet, you listen to me. I hate you. I think you are a piece of garbage, and I want you to stay as far away from me as possible. You are on this squad now, but I want nothing to do with you. Don’t talk to me, don’t look at me, and do not come near me.”

Brienne hurried away. She went to her desk and grabbed her bag “Where are you going? I need coffee!” Jaime called after her.

“Drive me to Hyle’s, now!” she pleaded. Jaime took one look at her face and rose from his desk. Once outside, she jumped into his car and Jaime drove her straight to Hyle’s apartment without a word. Brienne knew it was Hyle’s day off. He answered the door in his gym clothes, still sweaty from his workout.

“Hi,” he said. She punched him in the nose. “What the fuck?!” He bent over, hands covering his wounded face.

“How could you?” she demanded, her voice a quiet rage.

Hyle’s voice raised an octave. “What the hell are you talking about, Brienne?”

“This week we got a new detective on our squad. It’s Ronnet Connington, and he had a very interesting story to tell me about you.” She had hoped with all her heart that Ron was lying. She had chanted a prayer with each step that brought her to his door. But when she saw Hyle’s face in that moment, she knew. Disappointment flooded through her. “Those other guys, they were all immature and heartless. They treated me terrible because I was a woman and I was ugly, but I was still better than them. I’m not surprised they were involved. However you, Hyle, you were nice to me, you were my friend. I trusted you. That hurts worst of all.”

“Brienne I’m sorry. There is no excuse. I was your friend. I was so stupid. Let me explain!”

She had not wept since her father’s funeral service, but if she stayed another minute, she was going to cry. Brienne turned around and fled.

****

“We were arrogant. We took it for granted,” Brienne explained to Dr. Meribald. “I did have feelings for Jaime, I did love him, but I slapped a label of friendship on it and sold it to myself. He is beautiful; a person would have to be blind not to see his beauty, being attracted to him is inescapable. We told ourselves we were sure in our love, that it was innocent, easy and unthinking. I told myself he could never love me as anything more than a friend. We were smug. We thought we were the exception to the rule, but there are no exceptions.”

“What happened?” the doctor asked her.

“Every bright spot in our lives became a dark and dangerous minefield, fraught with insinuations. We buckled under the pressure of expectations.”

****

The night started innocently, unassuming. Jaime was working over a case file and nursing a beer while sitting at her kitchen table. His jacket and tie were gone, the first few buttons of his dress shirt unbuttoned. Normally the view would entice Brienne, but she couldn’t concentrate on Jaime or on work; her mind was filled with the recent knowledge of Hyle’s betrayal. In the two weeks since she confronted him, he had taken to calling her, apologetically pleading absolution and his latest voicemail still echoed in her head.

“Why don’t you just forgive him?” Jaime said, startling her out of her thoughts.

When Jaime had questioned what had caused her and Hyle’s falling out, she asked for privacy, not wanting to draw him into the drama and cause problems at work now that Ron was a squad member. Jaime didn’t question her, but had become rather moody with her reluctance to disclose the dispute. Ron, thankfully, was staying away from her, as she had demanded.

“I wasn’t thinking about Hyle,” she fibbed. “I was thinking about our case schedule next week.” Jaime rolled his eyes in disbelief, but let the subject drop. They worked in relative silence for the rest of the night.

When they crawled into bed, Jaime didn’t cuddle behind her as he normally did. Instead, he faced away from her and kept fidgeting. After a half hour, he flopped on his back with a sigh and she couldn’t stand it anymore. “Jaime! What gives?”

He sighed dramatically. “I want to respect your privacy, but whatever happened between you and Hyle has me all mixed up. I know it could be anything, but your fervent reaction makes me concerned that your fight could have been because you were in love with each other. I never gave thought to the notion that you and Hyle might have been involved romantically, but now it’s all I can think of.”

Brienne sat up on her elbows and looked at Jaime in disbelief. “No. No, we were never involved romantically. Things were never like that between us, we were just friends, or, I thought we were friends.”

“Define ‘romantically’ for me, please.”

She eyed him dubiously. “I never slept with Hyle, if that’s what you are asking.”

“That’s what I was asking,” he replied. “I don’t like to share.”

His statement confused her, but before their conversation could veer off topic, she brought them back to the subject at hand. “Look, Jaime, I didn’t want to tell you about the argument because I didn’t want you get involved. It has to do with something that happened in academy, something I never told you about.”

“It happened before I met you?”

“No, I did know you, but we had only been friends a few months. I felt uncomfortable sharing it with anyone. I was angry but I was also ashamed. Our falling out has to do with the new detective on our squad, Ronnet Connington.”

Brienne laid back and stared at the ceiling as she told Jaime about the prank, her dread when Ron walked into the squad room, his disgusting comments in the break room and her horror when she confirmed Hyle’s involvement.

Jaime was fuming. “I knew Ron was a piece of shit. I’ve met his kind before; he thinks if he butters me up, I’ll sing his praises to my father. Now that cooking comment he said to you makes sense. He has some balls, saying that in front of me. What if I had known, and punched him in the face when he said that to you?”

“He was banking on me not having said anything, of me being too embarrassed.” It bothered her that Ronnet had been correct.

“You said you were ashamed. You have no reason to be ashamed. What he did was horrible.”

“I know,” Brienne said. “It was horrible, but Tarly made me feel like a fool for making a big deal out of it. When I looked into Ron’s eyes in the cafeteria that day, I saw something frightening. He wanted to hurt me, to humiliate me and degrade me. Even thought it was a prank, I felt like he had some hidden malicious intent. That’s why I went to Tarly; it was my gut feeling that Ron had intended real harm, but I didn’t know how to express that and not have it called ‘women’s intuition,’ be labeled as a crazy girl looking to invent drama. I know it sounds irrational, but Ron gives me a strong sense of disquiet.”

“You’re not irrational, Brienne. He’s vile.”

“That’s why I can’t be friends with Hyle anymore. I can’t be friends with someone who would be involved with that, and who would keep it from me for so long.”
“Why did he do it? What was his reason?”

“I didn’t give him a chance to explain. I got confirmation that what Ronnet told me was true, and I left. I haven’t answered any of his calls and haven’t spoken to Hyle since.”

Jaime sighed. “You probably don’t want to hear this, but I think you should find out why he did it. You have been friends for a long time, and he was wrong to keep it from you, but he’s not a sick fuck like Ron. I think he deserves a chance to explain himself.”

Brienne sighed. “You might be right, but I can’t talk to him right now. I’m too angry and disappointed.”

He shifted closer to her. “I understand. Just, don’t let too much time go by. If you do, it might be too late to make things right.” Jaime reached over, grasping her hand above the covers. “You don’t want to miss an opportunity to let someone know you care deeply about them.” His last words confused her, she suddenly felt like they weren’t talking about Hyle at all. She looked into Jaime’s green eyes.

If Brienne were completely honest, she had long harbored a fantasy that one day Jaime would be standing in front of her, looking her up and down, and astonishingly would say, “You are beautiful. You’ve always been beautiful to me.” Brienne was not and never would be attractive, and Jaime did not say the words, but when his eyes met hers in bed that night, it was plain to see that nothing about her disappointed him. The tension simmered in the air, and when their lips finally met it was a dam breaking, words and sighs a deep and powerful current pulling them under. Mouths, hands and lips drove forward until they immersed completely in each other. Her tongue moved against his and he groaned low and obscene in his throat.

He pulled her nightshirt over her head and helped her undress completely. When they lay together naked, Brienne boldly reached between his thighs and experimentally brushed him with her fingertips. “Feel free to investigate, Detective, as long as I’m allowed to do the same,” he said, cupping his hand over her mound.

She placed wet kisses down his torso and he did the same to her, their hands never moving from each other’s trembling bodies. The sensations and newness of each other’s sexuality turned them into strangers, blind to everything but the intense need to pleasure each other. “We should have been doing this for years,” Jaime breathlessly murmured as Brienne crawled atop him, positioning herself on his cock. His hands grasped her hips, urging her to take him into her body. She sank down, drawing him inside, his face contorting with pleasure making her feel as if she had won a mêlée, had proved herself in some intimate way that she didn’t completely understand.

Afterwards, Jaime lay with his nose in her hair, breathing in her scent, his bare chest against her damp back, with one arm pillowing her head while the other arm snaked around to cradle her small breast. The taste of him was in her mouth, the smell of her was on his fingers. They fell asleep, trembling and satiated.

****

 

When she awoke the next morning, Brienne found Jaime’s side of the bed vacant. Some mornings she enjoyed the intimacy of being alone, the cool, empty space next to her, but this morning the unoccupied expanse felt vast and sinister. Reproaches rose in her mind. Jaime was the last man she should have admitted to desiring, and certainly the last man she should have allowed herself to have. Yet she could find no sincere remorse for crossing the physical line they had traversed the previous night. Jaime’s reaction, on the other hand, was what concerned her.

The smell of bacon wafted into the room, so she threw on her nightshirt and walked timidly to the kitchen. He had laid a plate for her with eggs, bacon and toast, but was standing at the counter drinking a cup of coffee, not touching his own meal. When he saw her Jaime smiled, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes. Her heart seized up. “Good morning,” he said formally.

“Good morning,” she replied, feeling ridiculous at their primness. She sat down in front of her breakfast. “Thanks for cooking.”

“Yeah, it was no problem.” He seemed distracted, and shifted his mug from hand to hand before finally placing it in the sink, still half filled with liquid. “Listen, I’m sorry to run out so early but I have to meet my father. It can’t be postponed.”

“Your father?” she said dumbly. She wracked her brain trying to remember him previously mentioning that he had to visit his father. Such an event would have caused a great deal of complaining from Jaime.

“Yes.” He didn’t elaborate.

“Okay. I’ll see you later?”

“Yeah, I’ll text you,” Jaime said. He squeezed her shoulder as he walked by, and left the apartment without another word. Brienne felt like she was going to be sick. Admittedly, she had very little experience with men, but she knew a brush off when it happened.

She moved through the rest of the day like a zombie. As the dinner hour neared, she texted Jaime asking if he would be joining her as he usually did, but he answered back that the business with his father was taking longer than expected, so he would see her at work on Monday.

The smell of Jaime on her sheet mocked her the rest of the weekend.

Brienne anxiously walked into work on Monday not knowing what to expect or how to act, but as soon as she and Jaime settled into the workday, it was as if nothing had happened between them. He did not speak of Friday night, and Brienne did not bring it up. Aside from being a little distracted, Jaime treated her as he always had. He did not offer to come home with her that day, and she left the precinct alone. She felt like a coward for being relieved.

****

Brienne’s bag had hardly touched her desk Thursday morning when Lieutenant Tyrell barked her name across the quiet squad room. Only two other detectives were there, and they actively avoided looking her way. The lieutenant looked ready to have an aneurysm, leaving Brienne hurriedly contemplating what infraction she committed to cause his anger. She walked in and found Jaime prowling the cramped confines of the lieutenant’s office, ignoring the chair in front of him, looking defensive. Most days they could perform a type of nonverbal communication using only their eyes and eyebrows, but today he refused even to look her way. Her heart plummeted into her shoes and she went cold all over. Brienne closed the door.

Mace Tyrell’s face was beet red, his forehead covered in a thin sheen of sweat. “You didn’t think it was pertinent information that we hired a sexual pervert? You didn’t think this was something I should know?” Brienne’s mouth opened and closed like a cow, but no words would come out.

“I told you, she didn’t know,” Jaime was barley suppressing his temper.

“Lieutenant, what are you talking about?” Brienne enquired, anxiety swelling in her stomach like bread dough.

“Lannister, you shut up. Don’t play dumb with me, Tarth. Lannister here almost screwed the investigation by knocking Connington into next week. It’s a fucking mess. You two are so far up each other’s asses I don’t believe for a second you don’t know to what I’m referring. A detective walks onto the squad who tried to force you to ingest his semen and Gods know what else, and you don’t think I should know about that?”

Brienne felt engulfed by a wave of terrible, searing shame. The crushing humiliation from academy rushed back to her, making her face burn. She could feel her skin crawl and hear the mocking laughter of the people who had sat behind Ron. Why had Jaime told Tyrell? “I didn’t want to cause trouble on the squad,” she said, her voice small and timid, which made her more ashamed. “I tried to tell Randyll Tarly when it happened. I told him and he made me feel like it was my fault. He said it was a prank and that I was overreacting.” She turned to Jaime, but he still wouldn’t make eye contact with her. “What is going on?”

“I told you,” Tyrell shouted. “Lannister hit Connington. He broke his nose and blackened his eye.”

Brienne’s eyes were saucers. “Why did you do that?” Jaime was obstinate in his silence.

“All these year, Lannister, and I never had a problem with you. You were a cocky son of a bitch when you first started, but I tolerated you because you were a good cop. You never played the daddy card and I respected that.” Jaime’s face was tight. “People told me I was crazy to take you on my squad, that I’d have Tywin Lannister breathing down my neck, asking me to look the other way while his son fucked up, but that never happened. Now what am I supposed to do with this mess?”

“What everyone should have done in the first place,” Jaime declared, deadly calm. “I’m a cop, not a public relations agent. I did my job.”

“What mess?” Brienne shouted, startling the two men out of their staring contest. “Contrary to belief, I have no idea what is going on! What does Jaime’s father have to do with Ronnet Connington?” Jaime finally looked at her, his face haggard and withdrawn.

“After you told me about Connington, and what he tried to do, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It just seemed wrong to me, sick and twisted, not a normal prank someone would do. I went to my father’s office after he left work.” Brienne’s body understood first. Her breastbone tightened, making it difficult to breath. “I stole his key to the file storage, and I took Connington’s file. It had everything in it from his high school transcripts to his promotion to detective. It had a lot of other stuff in it too, like Tarly, writing Connington up for sexual harassment when he was in academy, and several complaints from female witnesses that he was intimidating and harassing while in uniform.

“I found something else, as well. Connington failed his psych entrance exam three times before finally passing. Do you remember Ronnet mentioning his uncle to me the first day he joined the squad? The name actually did a ring a bell to me. His uncle is Dr. Jon Connington, the doctor who administers the psych tests before academy. Jon pushed Ronnet’s test through even though he shouldn’t have, and covered up Ronnet assaulting an ex-girlfriend. He beat her up pretty bad when they were in college.”

Brienne looked back and forth between Lieutenant Tyrell and Jaime, absorbing the flood of information. “I don’t understand. How did he get away with all this and no one knew?”

Tyrell answered, finally looking abashed. “We go on the report from the commanding officer of the precinct. That was Chief Targaryen. He reported Ronnet as a bit of a hot head, but no real issues. Targaryen and Jon Connington have been friends for years. These men have been on the force as long as the Chief of Police. I bet Targaryen took Ronnet on as a favor to Jon, and overlooked the issues in Ronnet’s file.”

“It certainly wouldn’t be the first time something like that has happened,” Jaime said in a leading voice. “Unfortunately, this profession can be a lot like the ‘good-ole boys club.’ Favors go around, and paperwork gets shuffled.” Brienne knew Jaime wouldn’t have the job if his own father hadn’t shuffled some paperwork.

“I took the information to my father,” Jaime continued, “told him that you were the woman Ronnet harassed in academy and my suspicions about Jon Connington. My father called Jon in for ‘questioning’, and he admitted to forging Ronnet’s test results.” Brienne could only imagine what the questioning had been like. Tywin Lannister was a respected man, but he could be vicious. “Father called Ronnet in and fired him.” Brienne was stunned. “Ronnet came to clean out his desk yesterday, after you left for the day, and confronted me. He said some vile things about you, and I hit him. Hard.”

The lieutenant had begun to calm down, but now became agitated again. “Now the Connington’s are up in arms, yelling about how the Lannister’s are trying to bully them off the force. They are saying the family is trying to destroy them. I should suspend you Lannister, for half a dozen reasons, and I have half a mind to put you on desk duty, Tarth, for withholding information about Connington. Now the Police Chief tells me there is no reason to ‘add insult to injury’ what in seven hells that means I’ll never know! This whole situation is full of improper police behavior, and favoritism, and I’m supposed to look the other way for the Police Chief’s son.”

“Lieutenant, blame me,” Brienne pleaded. “Please don’t punish Jaime. He was only trying to protect me.”

“Are you trying to save me, Brienne?” Jaime laughed. “Don’t hold your breath. Tyrell has made his judgment. I did what the force should have done the minute that douchebag applied.” Brienne could barely stand the anxiety burning her stomach as she watched Jaime, trapped on the wrong side of an interrogation process, be so defeated.

The Lieutenant ignored Jaime’s last statement. “I’m happy Ronnet Connington is off the force, but I don’t like the way it happened. I want the two of you out of my sight. Go home and come back tomorrow. We will start fresh, and I had better not hear of you running to your daddy again and telling him I sent you home either, Lannister. Now, go, both of you.”

Jaime bared his teeth but thankfully kept mute on the way out of the office and back to their desks. They gathered their belongings in silence, and headed to the door.

Once outside, Brienne followed Jaime to his parked car, but instead of unlocking it to let her in, he leaned against the driver side door, looking as though he could not hold up his own weight. Brienne knew Jaime as well as the back of her hand, and she could tell he was trying to remain calm, but was almost shaking. When it became apparent he wouldn’t talk until she did, Brienne started. Her voice sounded like someone else’s.

“What did Ronnet say?”

Jaime grimaced. “He said a lot of things, Brienne.”

“What made you hit him?” Jaime looked away, refusing to answer. Brienne resigned herself to never knowing the words that had prompted Jaime’s violence, and possibly being the better for it.

When Jaime turned to her, his handsome face seemed gaunt, his eyes expressing something she couldn’t fathom and it frightened her. “This whole situation has me wrecked, Brienne. I can’t talk about this now, I have to go.”

“No, Jaime, please. I feel like I’m losing you, that I’m losing my closest friend and I don’t know how to fix it.” Brienne was dangerously close to crying. “I understand you are angry and want space right now, and I am trying to respect that, but I’m afraid. I’m afraid if we walk away now, we will never be the same again.” He remained impassive, seemingly looking through her, deaf to the plea in her voice. She tried once more. “Please Jaime,” she whispered. “We need to talk about everything, about what happened with Ronnet, about you going to your father, and about what happened between us.”

Her final statement stirred him to life. “I know you want to talk about what happened between us and I know you need answers, but I feel like nothing good ever comes of these kinds of conversations. They serve no useful purpose and almost never have a positive result.”

Brienne by nature wanted to desist and leave, but she straightened her shoulders and forced calmness into her shaking voice. “Today I come into work to find out you’ve done the one thing you abhor most of all, using your position as the Chief of Police’s son to your advantage, and you’ve rearranged Ronnet’s face, citing the reason as defending my honor, yet you have barely spoken to me since the night we were together. Do you understand why I am so baffled?

“If you want to act as if Friday night never happened, then fine, I can do that, but I can’t do it if you push me away and start acting like a stranger. We are partners, Jaime. What happened doesn’t have to change us.”

Jaime snorted. He rubbed his hands over his face, pressing the bags under his eyes. “I don’t even know what that means, things don’t have to change. Of course they will change.”

Brienne was sad. “I’m sorry if you regret what happened, but it did happen. Now it’s over. All I want is for us to move on and go back to some variation of the way things were.”

“That’s the part you do not understand, Brienne. I don’t regret what happened. I’m pissed at myself for making things complicated.”

Brienne was exasperated. “Jaime! I am standing here telling you it doesn’t have to be complicated. We are friends, we are close, and it just brought us a little closer.”

“Brienne, I swear you are the most stubborn and thick headed individual. I’ve been a fool, a great golden fool. I always act before I can think my actions through.” He straightened up and took a deep breath, and Brienne knew she was going to lament whatever words spilled out of his mouth next. “I think we should consider not being partners anymore.”

“Jaime, no!”

“I can’t trust myself where you are concerned. I care about you too much; we are more than partners are, and I can’t make rational decisions when it comes to you, not anymore. I went off half-cocked to my father after that night when you told me about Ronnet. All I could think about was protecting you, and not because you are my work partner. It’s because I think I…”

Jaime pushed himself away from the car. “Look, can we please just talk about this tomorrow? I have to sort out my head before I can have a meaningful conversation. My father is hoarding this fuckup over me, and I’m royally pissed at myself. I know that’s juvenile and unfair of me, but I need to get my thoughts together. We will talk tomorrow, I promise. We will get all of this straightened out- us, work, my father, everything. I should have gotten everything out in the open the night we slept together, but I was scared. I am sorry. Please forgive me, Brienne.” Brienne was too stunned to move. He reached for the door handle. This time, she thought sadly, there was no Bear waiting to jump out and force them to reconcile their differences.

“Tomorrow we will talk,” Jaime repeated. “Nothing will change between now and then. Tomorrow we can decide what the future will hold.” Brienne gave up. If he needed space, she would give him space. When he figured out she wasn’t going to answer, he looked almost grateful, which hurt her to the core. In silence, she turned and walked away.

****

Of all the roads her future could have taken, this route had not been on the map. The argument with Jaime had shaken her whole world, left cracks in her foundation, making her unstable. She had damaged the most meaningful relationship in her life. She felt like a failure. “I was the detective,” she said, “I assumed I was the hunter, never presumed I could be the hunted. I thought I might die, in that apartment,” she revealed to the doctor, “never having lived up to the true potential of my life. I thought I might never mend the break between Jaime and me, that I would be a failure, alone, even in death.”

****

It was roughly six miles from the precinct to her apartment, and while she would normally take the bus, Brienne needed the walk. On the trek home, she replayed every confusing word spoken by Jaime, trying desperately to hold on to hope that they could salvage their friendship and partnership. For a moment, it had seemed as though Jaime was going to tell her he loved her, but Brienne knew that must be fantasy. Her jumbled and racing thoughts were getting her nowhere, she decided, and hoped that tomorrow they would come to some understanding. She couldn’t imagine life without him.

As soon as Brienne walked across the threshold of her apartment in Duskendale, she knew something was wrong. Some subconscious echo pulled at her mind, making her pause in the doorway, glance around, listen for odd noises. Nothing seemed out of place. Idiot, she admonished herself. Your conversation with Jaime has you rattled. She threw her work bag down with a sigh, and closed and locked the door behind her. When she walked into her kitchen, she found the source of her initial unease.

Ronnet Connington had seated himself at her measly kitchen table. The sensation of violation and magnitude of the invasion was so great she couldn’t think straight. His right eye was black and swollen. His left hand reached out from behind his back. In its grip was a gun.

Her own gun was in the duffle bag she had abandoned at the front door. Stupid. Careless. Her voice when it finally came, cracked with tension, but sounded stronger than she felt. “Ron, what are you doing in my home?”

He laughed. The laugh was terrifying, a demented sound. She waited what felt like an age for him to answer, but he stared at her, a cat cornering a mouse. This is ridiculous, she thought. I am a cop, trained to deal with maniacs like this. I refuse to let him make a meal out of me. “How did you get into my apartment?” she asked with more force, trying to keep her voice free of anger and fear.

“Not much of a lock you have on the door. You would think a cop, especially a woman cop, would know better.”

Brienne could see the tautness in his body. “Why are you here?”

“I’m here for Jaime Lannister,” he said.

“Well Jaime isn’t here, as you can see. Why don’t you leave a message? And I will give it to him.” If Jaime ever talked to her again, he would talk to her, he was just angry now. “You can go.” She started to slowly edge toward the door.

Ron laughed again, and Brienne’s blood went cold. “I am definitely going to leave Lannister a message, cunt.” The derogatory name didn’t even touch her in her state of alarm. “I realize cunt isn’t a nice word to call a lady, but you’re not one anyway, are you?”

“Ronnet Connington,” she said again, hoping his full name would finally spark the truth, “what are you doing in my home?”

“I’m here for revenge.” Suddenly, she knew exactly what his terrible purpose was. His voice left no room for doubt. He stood up, pointing the gun at her heart as he stalked closer. I could die, she thought, all because I didn’t eat this maniac’s brownies. She put her hands up in submission and he stood as close as a lover, never lowering his pistol. Her mind raced, trying to figure a way out of this doomed situation.

“Why should that fucker Lannister get away with everything? I lost my job because of him. Being a cop was my whole life. He went into my private fucking file and received no repercussions! Lannister is a piece of shit and deserves punishment. He walks around as if he has a cock made of solid gold. Well it’s time for the Lannister’s to learn that if they fuck with the wrong person, they will lose what they love. For some reason, Jaime Lannister loves your ugly ass, or loves to fuck it, I guess. Brienne the beauty,” he cursed. “I have heard ugly chicks fuck the best. So here I am, Bitch. I am going to take away the thing he loves. You’re going to show me how fantastic Lannister’s beloved cunt really is. Maybe I’ll finally make you eat my cum after all.” Ronnet reached out his hulking hand and grabbed Brienne between the legs. The jaws of a nightmare snatched her up; the monster under the bed was real, and nothing in her life would ever be the same.

“Now, take off your clothes. If you make any wrong moves- try to touch your phone or make a move for your weapon- I will hurt you. I will kill you, Beauty. Do you understand? I’ve got nothing left to lose. I’ll kill you and then fuck your dead body if I have to, don’t think I won’t.”

What else was there to do but fight? Yet, how? If she moved to attack him, he would shoot her, of that she had no doubt. Hatred burned in his eyes; he was begging her to make a misstep so he would have an excuse to hurt her.

She nodded, and his lips curled into a smile. “Good. Now, you and I are going to have some fun. Take off your fucking clothes.” Ronnet was frantic; a coiled spring of creeping rage with no form of release. Don’t think about it, she told herself, repeating the words silently, a mantra in her head. He led her into her small bedroom at gunpoint.
The echo of her heartbeat deafened Brienne as it pumped blood around inside her head, as loud as a lions roar. She was shaking, and he was enjoying it. She wiped her blouse over her head and methodically reached around to unhook her bra, trying to control her trembling. Her small breasts bounced free as it fell to the floor. Ron leered at her. With a shudder, she reached down and unzipped her slacks, shimming out of them, pulling her shoes and socks off in the process. Her panties seemed to sigh as they slipped down her thighs, exposing her fully to his ogling gaze.

She was functioning on pure instinct- survival versus fear. This was a place where reason could not reach. His was not a mouth she imagined any woman wanting to kiss, but she made herself go to that mouth. She walked naked to her bed and sat. He joined her, holding the gun all the while. She leaned into him, moving her lips to his, teasing his mouth open with her tongue before sliding inside. Gods help me, she prayed. Gods help me to know what to do.

They deepened the kiss, tongues now battling for dominance. Despite the heat, Brienne felt cold, and couldn’t seem to stop shivering. “Why don’t you put down the gun?” she asked breathlessly, breaking away from the kiss. “You don’t need it. I won’t go anywhere.”

He stood and stripped off his clothes as she silently watched, trying desperately to think of a way out of the situation. When he pulled off his briefs, his cock sprang free from a bushel of blondish-red curls. When he saw her looking at it, he smirked. Sitting back on the bed, he placed the gun down next to him, out of her reach. He moved back in to kiss her once more, and his mouth smelled of their mixed saliva. The scent almost made Brienne puke, but she took a deep breath and kissed him back with feigned passion.

The air between them was alive with anticipation. He brought his hand up to cup her breast. His fingers found her spiraled nipple, and he squeezed too hard, making her draw a painful breath. “Gently,” she admonished, before realizing her mistake. He pulled his face back, livid. “Please,” she whispered, taking both his hands and moving them back to her chest. She pushed her meager breasts into his palms and his anger turned to triumph. He squeezed and palmed her flesh, drawing a dark and painful sound from her throat.

They toppled from sitting to lying on her bed. She slid under him with a grace unknown to her. One of his hands snaked behind her head, pulling at her short hair; with the fingers of his other hand, he continued to tug on her painfully hard nipple. Then his hand moved from her breast, swept down her stomach urgently until his fingers slid into her tangle of pubic hair. As he cupped her she moaned, from fear rather than desire, but Ronnet took it as an invitation.

His fingers slid inside her, pushy and overeager. The feeling sent a shock wave through her stomach, and her body arched into his touch involuntarily. He pumped his fingers in and out of her for a time, occasionally pulling them out to circle her nub and draw wetness from her. She reached down and wrapped her hand around his dick, running her hand up and down his prick, drawing him into full erection. Using intuition to know the right time, she slid herself fully under him and reached down to place his cock at her entrance. With a brutal thrust, Ronnet rammed himself in to the hilt. He rose up and pulled out until he had only the head of his cock was buried in her, then slammed back into her again with a laugh. Brienne moaned. This dance went on for a dozen more thrusts. Suddenly, his eyes glazed over and his thrusting lost its control and took on an erratic rhythm. He groaned as he spurted his seed, and then collapsed his whole weight on top of her.

The next moment unfolded in slow motion. In his exuberance, Ron had forgotten the gun, as she hoped he would, and the cold steel had slid against her outer thigh during their violent rutting match. Brienne reached for the gun, grasped it in her sweaty hand. Screaming, she brought the butt of the gun crashing down on the back of Ron’s head with all the force she could muster. Brienne was a strong woman, and the hit knocked him out cold.

Dropping the gun to the floor, she scrambled naked from the bed and ran to her workbag by the front door, wiping out her handcuffs. With unthinkable speed, she raced back to the bedroom and grabbed one of Ronnet’s hands, cuffing him to the silly ornate metal headboard Sansa insisted she buy. Brienne picked up the gun she had dropped and smashed it into Ron’s head once more, splitting the skin and splattering blood onto her hands. On her way out of the bedroom, she opened the chamber and removed the bullets.

She did not have much time. Throwing on her discarded slacks and blouse, not bothering with undergarments, she walked into the living room to retrieve her cell. Her actions seemed vague and detached, as if she was watching herself in a horror movie with one eye covered. When she picked her phone up and tried to dial, her hands were shaking so badly she almost dropped it.

Brienne stumbled into the kitchen. Under the sink, she kept a dusty bottle of vodka for any visitors who wanted a cocktail; she rarely drank more than a beer or two. This time she gulped a generous swallow straight from the bottle. As she stood up, Ronnet’s seamen trickled down her leg. Brienne promptly leaned over the sink and violently threw up, her mouth twisted in revulsion. She immediately downed another swig and dialed 911.

If only Jaime was with me, she thought. At this horrible moment he was all she wanted in the world. She shamefully wondered if he would comfort her and let her weep on his shoulder. That was what men wanted, wasn’t it? Soft helpless women they needed to protect. After always believing she was strong and capable, she certainly had not been able to protect herself tonight. The thought was a bitter one, but Brienne refused to let herself break down now that she had come this far.

When the operator answered, Brienne found she at a loss for coherent words. “Please come,” she said. “I knocked him out. He’s subdued. There has been a sexual assault.” She forgot tell the operator the assault happened to her. Brienne rattled off her address.

Fifteen minutes later Ron was awake and screaming obscenities from the bedroom, and an alarmed looking Hyle and Alys Karstark were at her door. She had a fleeting sense of vertigo that the sex crimes unit was there, and they were her friends. “I handcuffed Ronnet Connington to the bed frame,” she told them. “He attacked me in retaliation for Jaime Lannister getting him fired. I’m prepared to go down to the station for evidence collection.”

As if magically summoned by the sound of his name, Jaime walked up behind Hyle and Alys. “I was having dinner with Podrick,” he explained, though she had not spoken a word to him. “Hunt called when he realized the assault happened at your address.”

“I’m sorry, Brienne,” Hunt said guiltily. “I thought you’d want Jaime here.” He and Alys moved through her apartment to deal with the belligerent Ronnet. Alys brushed her hand against Brienne’s arm as she passed. Ronnet stopped yelling when they began to read him his rights, and all Brienne could hear was the ringing in her ears.

“Brienne,” Jaime chocked. He tried to express so many words in the statement of her name. He reached out to touch her, pulled his hand back when she flinched. “Brienne.” The events of the whole day rushed her at once, and she discovered, as if emerging from a dream, that she was trembling, her legs shaking so violently that she could barely stand. Bracing herself against the wall, she slid to the flood. Jaime fell to his knees next to her, grabbing her hand. He was crying.

That was the scene the seven Gods- all of whom were unreliable, Brienne decided- looked down on that night. A handsome man and a tall ugly woman, huddled together, scared and hurt with their world in despair. Everything else was so quiet.

****

Jaime drove her to the hospital, following along behind Hyle and Alys’s police cruiser. She felt like she was watching her life unfold from behind a looking glass. Once inside the emergency room, Brienne asked Jaime to wait in the car. “Do you want me to go?” Hyle asked her, uncertain. “You can bring someone inside the exam room with you.”

“I’ll work with Alys,” Brienne replied. She had no energy to deal with Hyle and their estrangement, and the thought of Jaime in the exam room was making her sick.

The nurse asked her mundane questions about her general health, and then asked her to recount the attack. In her mind, she had prepared her account of the night, making it more fathomable, less disturbed, but in the chaos of her barely concealed emotional turmoil it came out differently, more like it felt. They took hair and blood samples. They swabbed her mouth but took her to task for drinking the vodka, saying it could ruin DNA evidence. They didn’t require photographs since she had no wounds or bruises. She was thankful for that small respite from discomfort. When it came time for the internal exam, Brienne realized she desperately needed to urinate. “Sorry,” the nurse said. “You have to wait until after the exam, or it might ruin evidence.” Brienne lay back on the table and let the doctor poke around where no one had the right to go but her and whomever she allowed. After the doctor was finished, he handed her a prescription for antibiotics.

“Why do I need antibiotics?” she asked, perplexed.

“In case you came in contact with venereal diseases.” Brienne, in her naive, had never considered this outcome. A long list of new worries unfurled across her mind. “You will have to come back in six weeks for a check-up, and in six months for a HIV test.”

On their way out of the hospital, she made Alys stop in the restroom. Alys assisted on accompanying her inside despite her protests, and waited, leaning against the sink while Brienne was in the stall. The burning sensation on her torn skin was a blow to Brienne. Shock had thus far numbed her body to pain, and she let out a shriek of panic.

“That’s why I wanted to come in,” Alys said in a quiet, motherly voice through the stall door, “the pain always alarms the victim the first time they use the bathroom.” Brienne finished as quickly as she could.

Hyle and Jaime were waiting outside in the cruiser. Sansa was with them, her beautiful auburn hair in wild disarray. She hugged Brienne in a tight embrace. “Come back to my house after you go to the station for your statement. You can stay with me as long as you like.”

Brienne gratefully accepted. “Could you and Jaime wait for me there? I will have Alys drive me home after we are done.”

Alys recorded her statement in the sex crimes unit, a department Brienne had never been to. She couldn’t remember ever shadowing a sex crimes officer while in academy, though she knew she must have. After the interview was over and the microphone clicked off, Alys said, “That is remarkable. A rape is horrifying, and you were incredibly brave. ”

Telling the story again disquieted her. Brienne thought of how in the bathroom, Alys had labeled her a victim. It was interesting, what other people thought, that Ron was the aggressor and she was the victim. Seemingly, that was how it appeared from the outside, but it didn’t square with the version of her that had clobbered Ronnet over the head. That girl was not a victim- that girl was a wild, frenzied creature attacking out of distress. That girl was frightened.

“At the hospital they told me that Ronnet required seven stiches to close up the head wound,” Alys revealed with a sad smile. “Nice job.”

Had he thought it was his right to attack her? Did he think she was his property to abuse? She imagined him in his dank jail cell, the wound on his head stinging, pulsating in time with the wound between her legs. Perhaps later she would feel like a victim, whatever the true definition of the word, but for now, all Brienne wanted was for Ronnet Connington to know what it felt like to be afraid.

****

Before they left the sex crimes unit, Alys had slipped her a valium, telling her it would give her much needed rest. Instead, it left Brienne floating, awake in a dark cave with Jaime beside her, giving off a warm, golden glow she couldn’t rip her eyes away from.

She told him repeatedly to go home and get rest, but Jaime insisted on staying with her at Sansa’s house. Sansa had shot him a disapproving look and pointedly did not leave him an extra pillow, not that Jaime and Brienne would have fit together in the guest room single bed. Jaime, however, didn’t even try to join her on the mattress. Instead, he sat in a chair beside the bed, stroking the back of her hand and talking to her, the conversation flowing like he had promised her in the parking lot of the precinct, what seemed like years ago.

Her eyes were just drifting closed when he whispered, “This is all my fault, I am so sorry. I love you, Brienne.” She looked at him, a handsomely rugged man, his green eyes filled with anguish. The drugs were confusing her, making time objective; she was in academy with Hyle and Ronnet- she was in the parking lot with Jaime, trying to convince him to remain partners- they were making love in her now defiled bed. Here I felt sick, and there I felt terrified.

“Jaime,” she whispered back, afraid to wake Sansa even though she was most likely sitting on the couch, eavesdropping. “I love you so much. I blame myself. It’s my fault, not yours. Ronnet saw some quality in me, some weakness that made me worth attacking. You got caught in the crossfire.”

“Gods,” he whispered, moving his head closer to hers. “Never say that, never think that. It wasn’t your fault. Not back in academy, and not now.”

Jaime continued to talk, but the violence and panicky horror of the night was catching up to her, allowing her to hear his voice but not the words, the sound soothing her. The words didn’t matter; she would understand it all later, all she cared about was that they were together. “I meant it,” she said, before slipping into unconsciousness. “You are my partner and I really do love you.”

“I love you too, and I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to prove it,” Jaime vowed, but Brienne was already asleep.

****

 

His face when the police dragged him out of her home, like that of an ill-tempered toddler whose favorite toy was ripped away. The blood on her hands, the semen on her thighs. She could not find words for Dr. Meribald some sessions, so those times they sat in silence. Ronnet’s world was one of shadows; he had dragged Brienne into the darkness with him and some days she didn’t know how to get back out.

****

There were good days, and there were bad days. The bad days usually occurred after she would awake from a bad dream, feeling as if the world had ended and she was the only one left alive to mourn it. The day she went back to her apartment for the first time, accompanied by Sansa, and couldn’t cross the threshold, was a bad day. The day she came back to work from paid leave and found herself relegated to desk duty was a very bad day. She had counted on living in the job, allowing her to live less in herself, or at least the self she associated with Ron. Now even that road was blocked. Redundancy was contrary to her desire to numb the pain, push it away and focus on the good days, instead of the bad. Brienne was angry to learn that she now couldn’t escape her emotions, when all her life she had been so levelheaded. They seemed to emerge whenever she let down her guard. It was exhausting.

For someone whose life had always been black and white, whose path had seemed so clear, Brienne now was confused about many things, but about one thing, she had perfect knowledge. She could allow what happened to define her and the rest of her existence, or she could let it go to find its natural place in the history of her life. She had a choice to make; she could give up, or she could fight for what she wanted.

“Which will you choose?” Dr. Meribald asked. Which would she choose?

****

 

Jaime became an expert at sensing her moods and understanding the space she sometimes required from him to claw her way back to normalcy. But after some time had passed, he insisted she know what he needed from her.

“Do you want me to stop coming to see you?” he asked. “I don’t want to pressure you, but I have to know.”

She sighed. “Sometimes what I want and what might be best for you are two different things. I’m broken right now. I don’t know when I will be fixed.”

“Do you want me to go?” he repeated.

“No,” she cried in exasperation. “That’s not what I want.”

He came toward her, resolute and purposeful. “Then we will deal with the rest as it comes, Brienne. We will deal with it together, because I am telling you, I know what I want.”

He kissed her, and she let his certainty sweep them both away.

****

The days leading up to Ronnet’s trial were not good days. Dr. Meribald bared the brunt with grace.

“My mind races with questions. Everyday these questions plague me.”

“Tell me what these questions are that you ask yourself.”

“I didn’t do what is expected.”

“That’s not a question. And what is expected of a rape? Are there expectations?”

“There are clear roles. One person is the victim and the other is the aggressor. My situation doesn’t fall into that definition of rape.”

“From where I sit, Brienne, it is very clear. Your survival of the assault means that you did the right thing, no matter what it was.”

“Yes, that will go over so well in court. Your honor, I had no other options but to get the gun out of his hand and his cock inside me.” Her intensity shocked him. She rarely spoke with so much vitriol. “So I ask myself, every day, how do I explain it to someone? How do I take the stand against Ronnet when I’m not sure if I rescued or ruined myself?”

****

Jaime drew her hands up over her head. She was naked, exposed and defenseless, and he was lowering his face to her breast, dragging his wet mouth down her body. She moaned and writhed, feeling swept away with the pleasure vibrating through her. His tongue delved between her thighs, shooting fire through her veins, making her pant his name. Then the head lifted, and Ronnet’s face leered at her.

Chocking, Brienne jolted awake. The sheets had tangled around her, and the T-shirt she slept in was soaked in sweat. She was in her apartment and Jaime was sleeping on the couch in the living room. She sat up, fighting the urge to puke. She dragged herself out of bed and scrubbed her face. The alarm clock read 5:30, but there was no chance of her getting any more rest.

Quietly, as not to wake Jaime, she went through her workout routine- a hundred sit-ups, twenty pull-ups, and a three-mile run that felt like a marathon. By the time she was done and showered, she felt somewhat normal again.

When Jaime woke up he found her wandering from room to room, assessing her decorations and furniture, running her fingers delicately over various knick-knacks. She had lived in this tiny apartment for years. Her father helped her move in; she could still hear his good-natured grumbling about the two flights of steep stairs. She and Jaime had made love for the first time in this apartment. So many good and happy memories were contained within the walls.

“What’s up?” he asked her.

She didn’t look his way, just continued tenderly grazing her fingers over picture frames and chair backs. “I think,” she told him desolately, “it’s time for me to move out.”

****

She and Jaime moved in together, a new apartment to create new memories, a clean slate. They were still setting up, and Jaime, unsurprisingly, was the one with the decorative vision. He had sent her out to the store for paint swatches, and the cloying scent of imitation apple assaulted her when she returned. Jaime had lit dozens of candles and was standing in the middle of the empty room in a suit jacket.

“If this is a proposal, you look ridiculous,” she told him, her heart beating fast. “I’ll probably laugh at you.”

“It is ludicrous, I know. We aren’t candle people. I don’t wear suit jackets outside the squad room. Sansa told me I had to do it this way.”

She put down her bag and walked over to him. The candle light flickered over his skin, alighting green eyes inside a weathered face, softening its hard, settled form and granite bones. His expression was fearless and unblemished, its familiarity making her heart surge into her throat. The last time she had seen that look in Jaime’s eyes had been the night they made love, an act of tenderness that seemed to lead directly to an act of violence. Things had moved so far from that time. She didn’t feel like the same person at all. After working so hard to regain some semblance of normality, she didn’t want to ruin this moment.

He took her hand in his, and she recalled the first time she took his hand, after they had fought the Bear all those years ago. “I’ll be careful with you, Brienne. I’ll try not to aggravate you but will fail miserably. I’ll never turn my back on you, or leave you alone to face the dark. I’ll give you space to be your own woman. I’ll be your partner.” He smiled his devilish little-boy smile. “I’ll try my best not to hog the covers.”

“That promise sounds like it covers a lot more than the bed.”

“It could,” he said, pulling out a small box, “depending on your answer to a very important question.”

“Did Sansa tell you to say that?”

“That was all me, kid.”

“I don’t know what to say right now.”

“Just say welcome home.”

She did.

****

 

The first time Brienne sat down with Hyle alone after Ronnet attacked her, the residual awkwardness from their falling out keep them from making eye contact in the bohemian coffee shop she knew was his favorite. Brienne still couldn’t adopt the carefree attitude conveyed by the cafe, with its whacky artwork and dreadlocked baristas, but she was working hard to unwind, both with Hyle and in general. Hyle had stopped initiating a truce after the night he and Alys responded to her 911 call, but she heard the relief in his voice when he agreed to meet her after she called him the previous day requesting they clear the air, her appeal spurred on by her latest therapy session with Dr. Meribald,

“Congratulations on winning your court case again him,” Hyle hesitatingly stated after taking a sip of his hot coffee. “I’ve had to testify at a lot of rape hearings, and I’m really glad old Judge Redwayne presided. She’s a take no prisoners kind of judge, fair. She isn’t one to let rapists get away, unlike some judges.”
“Thank you. I’m just relieved it’s all over.”

He finally looked into her eyes. “I really am sorry, Brienne, about everything. You’ve had a really hard time.”

She reached out and placed her large hand over his. “Yes, I have.” Where the confession of weakness would not long ago have stuck in her gullet- the need to preserve the persona of a resilient female tantamount to truth- it now felt like a respite to divulge her reality. She was still learning to deal with her share of outrage and grief, but she felt tranquil sitting with Hyle.

“I was scared of Ron, is the truth,” he confessed, turning his palm up and entwining his calloused fingers with hers. Brienne had never been touched so much in her life as she had these past few months. “He set targets on peoples backs, and I didn’t want to have one on mine. He knew I was friendly with you, and he came to me one day with an ultimatum- I’d participate in his prank or I’d be on the receiving end when I least expected it. He demanded I…” Memories pulled at the muscles in his face, making his lips curl in repulsion as his voice trailed off for a moment. “Gods, I should never have done it. It sickens me, to think I couldn’t stand up to him. I am mortified.

“When you pulled that fucking brownie out in front of me, I just couldn’t let it all go down. I had to do something, even though he intimidated me. I should have told you when Ron first came to me, when you confronted him, after you went to Tarly, and every day from then until now. I should have been honest with you. I know I don’t deserve your forgiveness so I won’t ask it of you anymore. I just appreciate you giving me the chance to tell you the truth, now that it’s too late.”

“It’s not too late, Hyle. I won’t lie and say everything will go back to normal, but I appreciate hearing the truth.”

He looked grateful and squeezed her hand before finally letting it go. “Ronnet was jealous of you, Brienne. You had all the natural makings of a good cop, it was apparent to everyone, and Ronnet wanted that for himself. You are a woman and you were better than he was. That was something he couldn’t abide by. If I had stopped him, if Tarly had stopped him… but none of us did, and you paid the price.”

She felt absurdly like she was bestowing a blessing on their past when she spoke. “Hyle, please, don’t worry. It’s okay. You had your reasons for not saying anything. Even if you had, there is no guarantee it would have made any difference.”

He blushed, shocking her. She tried to remember a time she had ever seen him bashful and couldn’t recollect a single instance. “I admired you, Brienne. As I said, it was obvious at the time that you were going to be successful, and your capability drew me to you. I wanted to experience it through you. I’m a man and I enjoy a contest, and I saw a challenge in you, to gain your friendship and trust, but I mishandled both once they were mine. I was wrong but please know I really did care about you, and still do, despite what I did. That’s why Lannister always irked me,” he said with a coy smirk. “He had your faith and companionship too, but I always knew he wouldn’t betray them as I had.”

Brienne assessed the man in front of her, his simple but fetching face was open and honest, and she mentally flicked through the years of good memories she had of him like skimming through a well-loved book, pausing on the dog-eared pages of her favorite passages and acknowledging their meaning and place in her past. The memories of Hyle were like honey in her mouth, soothing and saccharine sweet, and she wanted to comfort him, anoint with shared past with solace.

“Jaime Lannister is a wonderful man. You, Hyle, are a fine man.”

“I don’t know how fine I am, or how you can think that after all I’ve told you today.”

“No, you are,” she insisted firmly. He let the matter rest and it died a quick death. They sipped their cooling coffees in comfortable silence, until Brienne voiced something that had been weighing on her since her temporary leave from the force, brought to the surface by his confession of coveting her success.

“May I admit something to you?” she asked timidly.

“Yes, of course.”

“Since I was a child I was ambitious, I wanted to be a serious professional, a true detective. I lived for the job, as cliché as that sounds. I loved what I did and tried to do my best- I suppose I will again. But the truth is, ever since the night Ronnet broke into my home and raped me, there is only one thing I want, and it isn’t professional success. It’s love. I want true love that lasts, companionship. I stared down the barrel of the gun in Ronnet’s hand and I thought, ‘please don’t let this be the end. Don’t let me have come through this lonely life, the jokes, all the pain, losing my father, losing Jaime, to die here in this shitty apartment with Ronnet Connington.’ I’ve been in therapy for a few months obsessing about being strong, being a fighter, being a warrior, but at the end of the day, no matter what I am, I have a woman’s heart. A women’s courage. Did Ronnet wreck me, or did he liberate me? Some days I honestly don’t know.” Hyle was staring at her strangely. “I must sound like an idiotic girl, wishing for love. I must seem weak.”

“No, you don’t sound like that at all. Women have the stronger hearts, in my opinion. Men feel the same way about love; they are just less likely to admit it, and loving someone, wanting love, is not weakness. It takes strength to love someone, to put aside yourself and devote your heart to someone else. Whom we choose to love affects what we choose to love in ourselves. Maybe some weakness is good.” Not for the first time in their friendship, his perceptiveness surprised her. He grinned and waggled his eyebrows at her, making her laugh.

“If I had known all you wanted was a man I should have snapped you up for myself, and not let Lannister steal your heart.” His smile was a little sad, and she wondered if there was any truth to his teasing statement. “Whether you’re a first class detective, or a first class wife, makes no difference. You are strong either way, Brienne. The man who has the honor of holding your love is a fortunate man indeed.”

***

 

“Illusion is important. It is self-assuring and lets us go about our day-to-day lives without a constant fear of the future. In cases of sexual assault, this illusion is broken and shakes the fundamental assumptions of one's invulnerability and safety, even for one as strong and self-assured as you, Brienne. In our first session, you told me you feared for the warrior in you. You feared she was dying, her flame extinguishing. You felt you couldn’t conquer the rape, the stereotypes, the reactions, and the misinformation. Is the warrior alive today?”

When they had first met, Brienne had likened Dr. Meribald to a mummer, but now she thought he was the warrior, maybe more so than she was. He fought fearlessly for his patients. He had fought valiantly for her to reclaim her tattered honor, to begin to heal the damage to her soul.

“Yes, the warrior is alive,” Brienne told him.

As he did during their very first session, Dr. Meribald reached out and took her hand. With a solemn voice, he told her, “You will have to fight, every day. It will not be easy.”

He sounded just like her father had, when she told him she wanted to become a cop. “I know. I’m prepared.” This time, she really was.

His eyes lingered on the little black box sitting on the table next to the blossoming violets. “Life is never easy. It’s a battle, a war, but sometimes something very beautiful emerges from the debris. Like the first violets to bloom in spring, surviving a burial so long under snow, it is such a precious thing. Do you agree, Brienne?”

She reached for the velvet box, opened it and took out the ring. She slid it onto her finger, held her hand up in awe. “Life isn’t black and white. I spent a lot of time trying to push myself into those prescribed vicinities. The warrior is still alive, but I’m not a warrior, not truly. I am human, and I have hope.” How much was she going to miss the girl she was before? She couldn’t answer honestly today, but she was fine with that. She had a lifetime to find out.

Dr. Meribald stood and embraced her one last time. He walked her to the waiting room, where Jaime was sitting, waiting patiently for her, as he had been every session before. Brienne reached out her hand to him, and witnessed the moment his eyes noticed the ring on her left hand. His gaze, usually so guarded with other people, when returned to her own, was open.

“Are you ready, partner?” Jaime asked her.

She looked back at Dr. Meribald, standing in his office. He raised a hand in farewell, and turned away, closing the door. She went to Jaime. “Yes, I am ready.” He twined his fingers with hers, the grip warm and right, and they walked together into the spring.