He was waiting.
Jaime was propped against her car as she exited the forest, oblivious to her approach; his face an echo of all the times she’d seen him scared or hurting. There was something small about him, something unfinished in the twist of his hands.
He jerked, turned to her with a face that warmed like sunrise. “I thought you’d left.”
Brienne still remembered the boy she’d met in these woods, the one who’d trailed after Cersei courting her approval. His careless smile, his unrepentant spirit, they were gone. The man in front of her swallowed and shifted, reached for her fingers.
“Only for a walk, the lake is beautiful this morning.”
He kicked the gravel, looking away. “Last night is a bit of a blur. Did I make an ass of myself?”
He didn’t remember.
It tumbled like a rock down her throat. He didn’t remember, and she could choose to make light of it or ignore it altogether. It would be cowardly, but safe. They could forget the kiss and to go back to okay, just okay.
“I don’t think so. I mean, other than the lap dance…”
“Was it good, the dancing?” Jaime grinned and her stomach swooped. How could it be? With feet this big and a frame this heavy, how could she float on the warm gust of his affection?
“You were all right.” She teased.
Jaime huffed, gifted her a pale smile. Jaime, who was created for sunlight and soft breezes, not worry. He grew quiet, eyes shifting with distant uncertainty, like wind through the treetops.
“Brienne, I remember some things...” He looked at her lips, her neck. “Did I overstep?”
“No.” She couldn’t bear his doubt, not when he’d given her something she wanted so badly. Just a taste, not enough.
She’d thought admitting her desire would be difficult. Instead it flowed out of her, easy as releasing a breath. Maybe she was just too full, a dam after a rainy spring.
She was spilling over.
Jaime made her careless, and he made her fierce. He made her feel like someone else, the sort of person who whispered wants beneath thick covers. It broke free...the need, the yearning. Her fingers curled in his belt loop, she pulled and he shuffled forward.
“It wasn’t too much, and it wasn’t unreciprocated.” Her chest was wide, sturdy. It had bothered her until she discovered how Jaime fit in the fold of her shoulder.
Solid. He’d called her solid.
She surrounded him, squeezed until he groaned. The first time Brienne had kissed Jaime--when she was eleven and despairing their differences--his timid groan had streaked through her. This was better.
“Brienne, there’s so much I need to say.”
On the edge of their forest anything was possible. If Brienne were a different girl, a fanciful girl, she’d think it was magic, like their mistletoe. She’d found Jaime in that forest, forged a friendship and reclaimed her hope. Brienne had fallen in love in that forest.
She held him like a wish.
“We’ll meet when everyone is asleep, like before.”
Their old tradition, but suffused with new feelings. Jaime was her steady place, he was her holiday , as much as her father, as much as her home had ever been.
“There’s something I need to show you.” He was staring over her shoulder, his thoughts far away.
“Will I like it?” Brienne took his hand, started toward the house.
His smile was small, satisfied. “I cherish it.”
I cherish you. It was right there, on the tip of her tongue.
“I’m sure I’ll like it too.”
It was an odd day.
Not that one act or one conversation defined it. Jaime placed his hand on the small of her back at close intervals…not exceptionally odd. Jaime introduced her to his extended family; different, but not odd. Tyrion smirked whenever he saw them standing together or sitting side by side. Tyrion smirked at most everything.
By afternoon, Brienne had decided it was the sum of the parts that was disorienting. The undercurrent of being watched over, of being presented as special, setting her off.
Jaime was pulled in half a dozen directions, tossed in a sea of Lannisters and Baratheons. The giant estate felt cramped. He’d leave with a touch of her hand, return with a squeeze of her elbow. When he wasn’t touching, he was watching, scanning for her face in the crowd. How many times had she searched for him in these rooms, in these hallways? He’d been her person for so long, she couldn’t remember not seeking him out.
It was odd to recognize her devotion in his mirror. Odd to watch him walk by Cersei expressionless, then brighten at her glance. She knew what Jaime meant to her. It was never a choice to love him or not; she did, she would.
Brienne grew up on a beach, the sea her lullaby. The tide rolled in, the tide rolled out. There was a flow to the world, retreating only to advance. She was the wave that crashed again and again on the same shore.
His love wasn’t inevitable like hers. Jaime loved her by choice, his love could change. He’d loved Cersei once, hadn’t he?
Brienne had named it weak: fickle, fallible love. She’d been wrong.
If she was the sea, then Jaime was a forest. Ever reaching, ever striving. Alive to his roots. Jaime’s love lived. His love existed, it would exist. Not unchanging, but growing.
Watching him from the sofa, Brienne was anxious for their talk. Jaime should know how long she’d loved him, how deep the currents of her adoration. He should know that she saw him, how he’d grown, how he shined.
After dinner, Brienne headed to her room, pulled on pajamas. The party was running out of steam, voices quieting.
How long have I waited for Jaime Lannister?
Somewhere between forever and not at all.
The knock came after midnight. Jaime stood at attention, tie askew and deep-set eyes.
“My family…” The sound he made was weary. “That took longer than expected. Is it too late?”
“Good. That’s good.” The air puffed out of him, like he’d been holding a breath. “I didn’t want to keep you waiting.”
Her chuckle was unexpected, the irony lost on him until understanding passed between them. “Only a few years.” Her voice was tender.
Jaime smiled her favorite smile, open and fond. A reminder of the times he’d waited for her too, the ways he’d loved her without words.
“Did you pack your present?” They’d shipped their boxes for each other weeks in advance, not expecting to meet. She nodded at the closet and he walked to fetch it for her. “Bring your sketchbooks.”
Brienne should expect his little kindnesses now. Jaime who lauded her strong body, but handled her with care. The timid girl she was, the woman she’d become. Jaime saw them both, knew what each needed.
“Come on, baby.” He headed for the stairs.
The fire was hissing and the lights were out, only the tree lit. A nest of pillows and blankets covered the floor, his present and another box on the sofa. He placed hers with them. Jaime removed his shoes and socks, shed his tie. Each piece of cast-aside formality leaving him younger, lighter. Brienne sunk into the soft pile, patted a spot beside her.
“This first.” He placed the smaller of his two boxes in her lap. The cardboard was worn, slick from the rub of fingers.
Inside was a book, the kind you’d buy in a craft store. The frame on the cover held a child’s drawing. Brienne traced the square with a fingertip, fighting tears.
“My book.” He covered her hand with his, moving together over the surface. “ This is a lion.”
“I can see it.” Water gathered between her lashes. “There’s a mane…a tail.” Her finger hovered over the yellowed paper.
“Forgive me. I was twelve, and still believed that I belonged in their pride.” He lifted the book from the box, placed it in her lap. “It’s yours.”
“It’s not…” They were his memories, not hers. Precious. Priceless. How could he offer them so easily?
“Look.” He opened to the first page, glanced between it and her face.
“Jaime, I couldn’t…”
“Just look, Brienne.” He kissed her cheek, catching a tear.
It was her drawing, the one of the girl. Beneath it, he’d written in blocky letters. My person will be generous. My person will listen, and won’t think I’m stupid or weird.
The next pages held more drawings: the boy with brown eyes, mistletoe. Beside them he’d taped the picture of Addam. My person likes to laugh. My person will be my best friend.
Brienne turned the pages with shaky fingers. Jaime had placed his arm around her, but she didn’t recall when. “You said you weren’t making a book?” Her voice was wet.
He rubbed circles on her shoulder. “I was embarrassed. Some of the words are wrong, the letters…”
She covered her mouth, hid a little sob. As if that mattered, as if she’d judge.
There were photographs of their lake next to her drawing of the same. A close-up of Brienne, freckles dark against rosy cheeks; the receipt for the markers stuck out from beneath. My person makes me smile. My person appreciates me.
The drawing of the heron. Her photo under the tree. My person will think about me, even when we’re not together. My person is kind.
Every sketch she’d sent was there. The photographs they’d looked at together, all printed and taped meticulously in place. A blurry screenshot of Winterfell, a sunset in Dorne. There were pictures of her from their hike the year before. Brienne didn’t recognize the relaxed, content woman smiling back at her.
And the words, God his words.
My person will welcome me into their family.
My person will make me better.
My person thinks I’m enough.
My person puts me first.
My person forgives my mistakes.
My person is Brienne.
She ran her finger over the line, read it over and over.
Brienne felt dizzy, fisted her hands to stop the shaking. Panic and elation warred in her head. She wasn’t a woman that men wrote books about, not the sort for happy endings.
That treacherous corner of her heart grew bold: Jaime had, Jaime thinks you are.
A year. Brienne’s heart thundered in her chest. Jaime tightened his hold, bracing for her reaction.
Her soul was surging. The floodgates burst, love and desire raging into the empty passages like whitewater, filling her.
“I think I knew in Dorne.” His voice was thoughtful. “Maybe Winterfell. It made my skin crawl to think of you with someone else.”
“You kissed someone else,” she squawked.
“That made my skin crawl too!” Jaime covered his face with a hand, groaning theatrically. “I thought that I was fucked, or was un-fuckable, truly, until the tent.”
“The tent.” Brienne whispered it like a secret. Jaime’s heat beneath her hands, the heft of him in her arms, his weight against her hips; all the sensations that she’d let go.
“God, the tent.” He continued, peeking between fingers, a blush beneath the bluster. “I was so glad that you were hugging my back. Lots of unexpected happenings in the front.”
“Jai-mee.” It was her turn to flush, rolling away and hiding in a pillow. He rolled with her, following.
Jaime who always followed, seeking her attention for the last year, maybe more. The realization took her breath. Silly girl, obstinate woman, too insecure to see.
“Do you know how happy I was to be turned on by you?” He pressed his face between her shoulder blades. “How utterly ecstatic I was to be sure, absolutely sure, you were the one?”
His desire terrified her, and God she wanted it.
Brienne turned over, opened her arms. Jaime filled them instantly, his mouth to her collarbone, his arms around her waist. “I thought that night was my only chance. That I’d never hold you again.” Brienne confessed.
“Hold me every night.” This was the Jaime she’d first met: demanding, driven by loss and longing.
“Every chance I get.” Brienne inhaled, tightened her arms. “I’m in love with you, don’t you know? Desperately so.”
Jaime hummed, lingering and pleased. “That’s good, because I’m yours...hopelessly, irreversibly yours.” He lifted his head, eyes of sunshine and pine. “I made a book and everything, no take-backs.”
“No take-backs.” He was her shore, she’d crash against his familiar surface forever.
Jaime stood quickly, held out both hands. “One more surprise.” He tugged Brienne to her feet, walked her to the archway near the stairs.
A perfect little bunch hung from a tack, with shiny green leaves and berries like pearls.
“I found it before you arrived, in the same tree.” He wrapped his arms around her waist, whispered against her cheek. “Not too old, not too young.” His lips sought hers. She felt the wet brush against her mouth, just before pulling away.
“What?” He frowned in confusion.
“Mistletoe. ..our mistletoe.” She found her backpack near the sofa, rummaged through the pockets. “It’s tradition, and for luck.” Brienne hurried back to where he was waiting, cradling the cracked twig.
“You said all the magic was gone.”
“I lied.” When she’d compared him to Cersei, and again with the mistletoe. Always in defense, always to protect her heart.
“Two lies. Should I be concerned?” His smile was teasing as his arm circled her waist, as his mouth lifted toward hers.
“What I feel, it’s honest.” Brienne’s fist balled in his shirt, her breath stirred his lashes. The little stick dug into her palm, his heart thudded beneath her knuckles.
“We don’t need luck, Brienne.”
She had imagined kissing Jaime in all sorts of ways: a drawn out surrender, plush lips and lazy tastes; a rushed clash of teeth and tongues, full of surprise. It was none of those things.
Their noses bumped and he clocked her chin. They struggled, and they repositioned. Jaime finally grasping her jaw and tilting her head in the opposite angle to his.
Brienne’s pulse galloped and her fingers shook where they tangled in his hair. Her lips swelled from landing in the wrong place. Brienne didn’t want to screw this up. Oh God, don’t screw this up.
Jaime laughed, of course he laughed.
Jaime laughed into her mouth, so lustily that she felt it in her tongue, so ripe and rich that she swallowed it down. It tasted like joy. Brienne groaned in pleasure, at his laughter in her throat. She slipped her tongue beside his, tried to lap more of it out.
Her mouth filled with a different sound: a moan, or a growl. Something deep, something dangerous. Jaime’s hand snuck beneath her shirt, his tongue thrusting alongside hers in a rhythm that made her ache. The secrets his body had kept were no longer secret. Brienne hung from his shoulders, rubbed against him just to feel the rumble of his reply.
When the burn in her lungs became unbearable, Brienne broke free. She was giddy, gasping around the heartbeat in her throat, around a laugh that might have been hers, or his. Jaime was gasping too, gasping and humming and stroking her back.
“This kiss, was it better?” It came out breathless, a stupid question, a girlish question. Jaime knew her timid parts, her insecurities. He knew why she asked.
“Good lord, Brienne. ” He palmed her backside, rocked forward. She hid her whimper in his shoulder. “You really have to ask?”
“I do.” She’d thought herself alone in her feelings, it was a hard thought to shake.
“I know.” He pushed the hair from her forehead, soothed her lips with his thumb. “I love you.”
Jaime dragged her forward for another kiss, and this one was soft and easy; their mouths and bodies a perfect match after all. Holding her long after the kiss was over, he rocked back and forth, humming. Almost a dance.
“I’m going to take a very long shower.” Jaime announced. Brienne grinned. “We can save the rest of the presents for tomorrow. Walk you to your room?”
The thought of sleeping alone in that big bed was miserable. Brienne shook her head. “I’ll sleep down here, with you.”
“You sure? That’s a perfectly good bed.” Brienne watched, fascinated, as his pupils swallowed the green.
“A lonely bed.” She jutted her chin.
“Fair enough.” Jaime reached up, unhooked the mistletoe and placed it in her hand. “For later.”
Later turned into hours spent touching and laughing. They were inexperienced but enthusiastic, the world felt new.
Jaime tucked their new mistletoe in his bag, fell asleep with his arm across her hip and his lips on her neck.
Brienne woke before dawn, stared at the pile of blankets scattered across the floor, at the beautiful man snoring softly beside her. In the grey light he was still golden, even prettier in slumber when the weight of his family and his fears slept as well.
His sleep-mussed hair, his slack expression and gentle sighs. They were hers, only hers. Jaime’s lips parted in sleep, she brushed them with a fingertip; his tongue flicking at the sensation, like an itch.
For later. She’d repeated it over and over, bewildered that they had an infinite amount of later ahead, a forever of for later.
Brienne understood now that waiting feeling that she’d had right from the start. How Jaime had waited for her, or she’d waited for him, it was hard to decide in the end.
Either way, they’d waited for this: for their souls and their bodies to align; for the right place, and the right timing, and the right circumstance to come about. As it turns out, there was nothing frightening about recognizing your other half. He was, he is, he will be.
As she would be.