“Tell me, Sansa.”
Jaime’s lips quirked. This was not what he had been expecting from this little intel-gathering mission.
“I want to know...what Maiden's Day is like for, you know, pretty people,” Brienne said, with a softness that caught Jaime by surprise and made him feel…something funny that he couldn’t really name.
“When I was younger,” Sansa said, “I confess Maiden’s Day was mostly an ego thing.”
“Oh yeah,” said Margaery. “My goal was to soak whoever happened to be my boyfriend at the time for all he was worth. A way to get mine back for all the gross looks and gropes and comments and…” her voice trailed off. “I’m sorry, Brienne,” she said. Jaime didn’t know that Margaery Tyrell was capable of sounding chastened, “Great House problems, I guess…”
Brienne laughed. Most people thought her laugh was, well, a bit much, but Jaime thought those people were dumb. “You don’t have to hold back on my account. Men create more than enough misery for pretty women and ugly women to share! (No, don’t call yourself that!) Also, can we just dwell for a moment on how fucked up it is that you are afraid of me being jealous because you get harassed and I don’t…or that, well, I almost wish someone would do that to me?”
OK, got that, brain? thought Jaime. Manly looks and touches, but NOT GROSS. Which they won’t be, since they’re coming from me.
“You know,” said Sansa, “I wonder if you’re the best person I’ve ever met. But, why are you asking us about this?”
“This is so dumb,” said Brienne. “But I can’t remember.”
“Remember what?” said Margaery.
“My dreams about what it might be like, you know, to be someone’s most important person. This year, well, you see, usually on Maiden’s Day I get sad and cry a little, but this year I didn’t. Like I had just forgotten to even want to have someone love me. And I didn’t even cry when my dad didn’t send me something. He always does, well, did—just so I know that I’m someone’s special girl—but I guess he thinks I’m too old now.”
She sounded so sad. Jaime decided he would eventually deal with everyone who had ever made her sad. Ever.
“Forget I said anything,” Brienne said. “I think I’m sort of, you know, past my expiration date. It’s too late.”
“It is not!” Sansa and Margaery said in unison, and Jaime was grateful for it, because he’d blurted it out too, almost giving himself away and ruining everything.
“Brienne!” said Sansa. “You can’t say things like that!”
“People don’t expire,” said Margaery. “Don’t you ever say that. You can find someone, if that's what you want.”
Brienne’s voice was soft again. “I think we all know that it’s probably not going to happen.”
A prudent inner voice—certainly not his own, as prudence was not his particular talent, but probably the residue of something Tyrion had said once—managed to stop Jaime from revealing his presence and just carrying Brienne off…to somewhere.
Finally, Margaery said, “Neither of us believe that.” Someone sounded like they were about to start crying. Probably Sansa. “We really don’t, don’t give me that look.”
“But you just”—Sansa was just managing to stop sobs from overtaking her voice—“you don’t even give yourself a chance. Come out with us. We can screen your prospects.”
Prospects? What was Sansa doing? The point of this wasn’t to push Brienne to other “prospects!” They had agreed to help him!
“Please,” Brienne said, so vulnerable and meek (Brienne, meek?)—for a moment Jaime wondered if there wasn’t an actual hole in his chest—”don’t do that. I know there are some decent guys who might just do something to be nice, to be a friend. Your cousin Jon would. Renly Baratheon actually tried once, bless him”—here she sniffed, and Jaime had to throw his hands under the table and hold himself in place for the billionth time in the last fifteen minutes—“but it was all just, you know, pity, and that made it worse, somehow. My pride’s all I’ve got—I can’t—I desire no man’s pity.”
“Brienne,” said Margaery, “I think you should open your heart—don’t look at me like that—because there are guys out there who, you know, I think they might surprise you.”
Me me me me me me me me, say Jaime, say Jaime…
“Please listen to Marg. I think she’s right.”
Why aren’t they mentioning me? SAY JAIME!
“I—uh—I think I’m going to be late,” said Brienne. “Thank you. And—and—I’ll try. To open my heart.”
Jaime didn’t know eyerolls could be audible.
When she had left the restaurant, he practically jumped into the booth with Margaery and Sansa. It was still warm. Brienne’s warm. He smiled.
“Wow,” said Margaery.
“So, did you get all that?” said Sansa.
“Why didn’t you mention me? Why didn’t you tell her I could surprise her?”
Both women gave him exasperated looks. “Gods, Jaime, that isn’t how it works,” said Margaery. “We can’t just say your name. Then it sounds weird and staged and she’ll be suspicious.”
“You are almost fifty,” said Sansa, “how do you not know anything about these things?”
Margaery cleared her throat. Sansa looked down in embarrassment. “That was thoughtless of me,” she said.
“Forget it,” said Jaime. “I did listen, you know, and I’ve got some ideas.”
Sansa opened her mouth like she was going to protest or object, but Margaery tapped her hand and she paused for a moment to redirect herself.
“Fine. Do not fuck this up, Lannister."
Jaime and Margaery’s eyes both bugged out of their heads. “Did you just say ‘fuck’?” he asked.
“Do. Not. Fuck. This. Up.” was her only reply.
Margaery nodded her head in agreement. Jaime nodded back and there was dreadful, awkward silence for a moment.
“Well,” he said, “thanks for your help. Let me cover your bill.” He put down five dragons.
“What do you think we had?” said Margaery. “It’s a few coppers at most.”
“What do I care? I’m Jaime Fucking Lannister, aren’t I?”
He was about to knock on her door when a terrible thought seized him. Cersei may have been cruel, but she was right. Stupidest Fucking Lannister.
He’d gone about this all wrong. Brienne had sort of suggested that she kind of wanted the “traditional” Maiden’s Day experience, but still—flowers? A stuffed animal? She was going to think he was making fun or her, or, even worse, pitying her, just trying to be nice. Which he certainly was not doing. Well—yes, he was, but not just nice. Since nice apparently meant only wanting to be friends?
It sort of partially occurred to Jaime that there was something kind of messed up about men and women’s relations in general, but this was not the time for philosophy. A tactical retreat was necessary. He had to get back to his den, summon Tyrion or Margaery or Sansa or whoever, and come up with a better plan of action.
Unfortunately, Brienne chose precisely that moment to open her door to check the thrice-damned mail.
She actually shrieked.
Jaime smiled because it was a new dimension, a side that he guessed not too many people got to see. She looked at him like he was deranged.
“What are you doing here?” she said in an alien, high-pitched voice.
“I don’t know!” he blurted out.
He could see her forcing the hope, the vulnerability, the sweetness back down to somewhere hidden. Shit shit shit shit. SAY SOMETHING, he screamed at himself.
“I mean—I don’t know why I’m here a day late! I’m sorry, but I—I still wanted you to have these.”
She was really confused, but there was still something open in her eyes. He hadn’t quite lost her yet. Somehow.
“Can I maybe come in and, uh, put these in a vase?” he said.
She stepped back out of the doorway, which Jaime took as an invitation. She didn’t say anything as she walked into her kitchen, where she produced a vase. Jaime took it from her, being sure to gently brush her hand while doing so, and started to fill it. The silence seemed to drag on forever.
Please say something, wench, Jaime prayed.
“They’re pretty. No one's ever given me flowers except my dad."
Jaime was struck by the strangest sensation, something like tears.
“You really like the flowers? I’ll get you more,” he said. “As many as you want.”
“Why?” Gods, she was so sincere. She truly didn’t know?
Reminding himself that, even though he was not exactly the stunner he had been even ten years ago, he was still the most eligible bachelor in Westeros, he stepped forward, slowly swept his eyes up her long, long frame, and took her hand again. He was pretty sure she was into it, so he brought her hand up to his lips. “So precious,” he murmured, in a low voice. She jerked her hand away.
“You couldn’t come up with a better lie than ‘delicate’?” said Brienne, who seemed more disgusted with his perceived lack of effort than with the fact that she thought he was lying.
Now it was Jaime's turn to be confused. “I didn’t say delicate.” Jaime was vaguely aware that his voice was lower and more desperate than he had hoped. “I said precious. They are not the same.”
The realization that he was right passed over her face, and she merely replied with a soft, sweet, “Oh.”
Emboldened by having used his words successfully, Jaime prepared for his big speech that he had sort of rehearsed after leaving Sansa and Margaery the day before, but, unbidden, his father’s voice intruded, stopping him mid-breath. His father was an awful person, but he wasn’t stupid. Tyrion was the brains and Jaime was the pretty face, and life worked better when he remembered that, and why couldn’t Tyrion be here now to help him?
Shit shit shit, she’s looking at me. Oh Gods, I have to say something.
“Life’s pretty miserable,” he said, and oh dear, she was looking at him like she was afraid he’d hit his head on something, but damn it, he had something he wanted to say and he was going to get there, come hell or high water. “It hurts and it’s cruel and unfair and it’s so hard to face it alone—well, I think it is, anyway. That’s why I, well, Cersei and—why I stayed with her, because I wanted to protect her and I thought she wanted—but, she didn’t, and she wasn’t nice to me, and I didn’t realize that until I met someone who actually was nice to me.” He paused for a moment. He thought he saw Brienne’s lips tremble a bit. He had to push through, he had to finish telling her this.
“You were like fresh, cold water to me, Brienne. (Blue water, like your pretty eyes, he almost said, but it didn’t feel right, not yet.) I—I think—yes, I was able to get myself out of that, to try and make myself better b-because of you, and I wanted to say something to you right away, but Tyrion and my therapist—they’re both so much smarter than I am, you see—they said I shouldn’t because I had to make myself better by myself first, and they were right, and I—I think I have and so, well, what I want to do is start showing you how special you are to me,” and here he took her hand and started stroking it again, “how precious you are, how there should be flowers everywhere you walk, how your world deserves to be as beautiful and soft as I can make it. If you want me to make it, I mean."
She took a few steps toward him, until she was so close. So close that he could reach out and—
She leaned forward and brushed her lips against hers. He put his arms around her waist and returned her kiss, just as gently.
“I feel warm,” she said.
Don’t be flippant, warned Jaime's inner voice. Patience.
Instead, he merely said, “I feel safe.”
She blushed again. “That too.”
He rested against her shoulder—he liked that—and ran his hand up and down her back for some time.
Eventually, she spoke again: “I would—I would like to—to sit on the couch and put my head on your shoulder and—” her voice fell to a whisper—“cuddle.”
Slow! commanded the inner voice. Jaime took her by the hand and led her over to the couch. He sat down and pulled her in, as gently and slowly as he could manage. She stretched herself out and put her head on his shoulder. When he gently moved a strand of flaxen hair out of her face, being sure to drag his thumb against her cheek as he did so, she murmured in pleasure.
“Relax,” he said, as softly as he could, “you can rest now. Let me keep watch.” She closed her eyes and nuzzled his shoulder again. One hand tentatively grazed over his chest, toward his other shoulder. He thought it was precious that she was obviously too nervous to touch his bare skin but that she also obviously really wanted to. So, instead of saying something, he looked at her with tremendous intensity, promising with his eyes that she would soon run her hands over his bare chest and his shoulders and many, many other things, and he would touch her the same way in turn.
She turned away for a moment, and Jaime was concerned that he’d frightened her, so he brought his head down to gently kiss the top of her head. He hoped it was a kiss that told her not to worry, that there was time enough for all things.