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Mistletoe

Chapter Text

 

Brienne was eight when her world flipped over. Skidded across wet pavement and tumbled into a ravine, actually, but she felt the flip in her soul. 

 

When her father asked if they could spend the holiday with his college friend Steffon, she must have nodded yes. But those were the days when they spoke in grunts; two lumbering bears trapped in a house that still felt like the missing half of their family, with all these feelings and little experience expressing them. 

 

Brienne packed her pink overnight bag. There was a bar of soap from the last trip they took together in the bottom. She left it there. 

 

After a car ride, and a ferry ride where her father bought her ice cream and asked Brienne in his new, soft voice to try and not spill it on her clothes, and another shorter trip staring mutely out the window, they arrived at the entrance to a huge stone house. There was a big man there to greet them, shorter and darker than her father. 

 

“I’m so sorry, Sel. So sorry.” 

 

She’d heard the words before, or others very close, said with the same awkward worry. It didn’t help either her or her father, but they accepted them anyway. Brienne swallowed hard, bit back the anger that was growing in her chest in place of emptiness. She could spit sorry. She was choking on sorry.

 

It was a fancy house, filled with fancy people, and they sat her at the end of a long table near two older blonde children. She might have had trouble telling them apart if one weren’t in a dress. They both were beautiful, like paintings of children. Brienne had the strange urge to rub at them and see if they would smear, if they would flake apart into nothing. She’d had that thought a lot lately, about a lot of things.

 

The girl smiled, and Brienne knew that look too. She’d seen it at school: in the lunchroom, or on the playground. But she was used to being the joke, and at least it wasn’t pity. 

 

A dark haired boy sat down beside her, more her age but short, with eyes like the sea. He smiled and it was real at least, if a little pitying. She could swallow the pity if there was kindness too, and this boy seemed kind.

 

“I’m Renly.” He held out a hand, very grown-up, and Brienne wrapped it in hers. “That’s Cersei and that’s Jaime.” He indicated the two blonds staring at them with toothy grins. Brienne wasn’t sure who was Cersei and who was Jaime and decided that she didn’t care, none of this mattered anyway. “Our fathers are friends.”

 

“I’m here too.” It came from the chair beside the golden boy. A head peeked over the table with mismatched eyes, the same blonde hair.

 

“No one cares, Tyrion.” That was the girl, in a rich voice that matched the rest of her; a voice people listened to, one that counted.

 

“I-I do. I care.” Brienne muttered, because she did. “Why doesn’t someone get you a pillow or…or something. So I can see you?” 

 

“Seeing it only makes things worse.” The girl.

 

“Shut up, Cers.” The boy chimed in. Brienne thought he might do this often, tell his sister to stop, but not nearly enough.

 

“Maybe he can sit on your lap….freak.”  The girl whispered that word, as if it wasn’t something Brienne already knew, but she did.

 

She knew from the way people took a second look when they met her, the way they stumbled over whether to say “she” or “he” and how her feet didn’t fit in girl shoes. She felt it in the deep crevices of her being every time her father snuck her into the men’s department to buy pants. Brienne was different, and not in a good way.

 

“He could…if he wanted to.” She would be different, on her terms.

 

Something like astonishment crossed the boy’s face. Jaime, his name was Jaime. He gently nudged the smaller boy with an elbow. “See Tyrion, you get the nicest seat here.”

 

The girl snickered, and Brienne thought that maybe she didn’t match her brother so well after all, because he didn’t. 

 

After dinner they sat on the floor by the tree, and Brienne thought it was nice. Just nice. There weren’t any chestnuts like she and Galladon would gather every year, and she missed her mother’s oyster stew and cranberry bread and she missed and missed, but that also was not new.  

 

When it was time for bed, a man with a too-thin face told Cersei that she would share her room with Brienne. The girl shrieked, stomped her polished shoes and called her a "beastly brat.” Brienne might agree with the beastly part, but she wasn’t a brat. 

 

“I’ll sleep on the sofa.” It was long enough, and near the fireplace so she could watch the embers until her eyes were tired. It would be nice. Just nice. 

 

“She can stay with me.” It was the boy. His sister made a snorting sound, as if it were some cruel joke they had come up with together. But Jaime just smiled a regular smile, and no one seemed to care, so she carried her pink bag to his room. 

 

There was one big bed; if that surprised him, he didn’t say. They took turns changing in the bathroom across the hall and then crawled in silently and turned their backs toward the middle, and it was nice. 

 

“How old are you?” Brienne whispered it to the wall, not sure why she cared.

 

“Eleven.” He didn’t ask her age in return. Jaime, who was eleven, and not as much like his sister as he thought.

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

The next day, they went for a walk in the woods near the house. Jaime and Cersei trotting ahead holding hands as Renly trailed behind with Brienne and Tyrion. They came upon Jaime up a tree, grabbing at a dark leafed plant growing on one of the bare branches. Cersei was busy pointing and encouraging him further and further out on a limb. 

 

“What is it?” Brienne looked up with wonder, mostly at Jaime if she was being honest.

 

“Mistletoe, you moron.” Cersei replied. Just then, Jaime chucked it down, a little bundle that landed at his sister’s feet and she skipped around them giggling. “It’s for kissing, but not you…” she poked at Tyrion. “…or you.” And of course, no one wanted to kiss Brienne. No kisses, that wasn’t new. 

 

She picked up a little piece that had broken off, stared at the shiny green leaves and little white berries like pearls. Pearls like the sea, the sea that reminded her of home.

 

That night she watched as Cersei hung the mistletoe from the bannister and they took turns kissing in the hall, their parents all sipping port in the next room. Port that sounded like the sea.

 

Cersei kissed Jaime, and Renly kissed Cersei and then Jaime, and Brienne understood in some place she didn’t yet recognize that she would like to kiss Jaime, and maybe Renly or Cersei too, but kisses weren’t for her. So when they teasingly called up, as she knelt on the landing with her face poking between the rails, she replied. “No, I don’t want to kiss anyone.” 

 

Cersei cackled, and she wasn’t very pretty at all Brienne thought, and Jaime shushed her as he always seemed to be doing, while Renly grinned a grin that wasn’t mean, exactly. 

 

She dreamed of her mother, of her brother. Their car flipping over and over as they screamed and fell, until there was no life in their lungs and the screams stopped. Brienne woke up screaming for them, as if her lungs could take the place, and Jaime was holding her, making a different shushing sound than the one he had used all day. 

 

She stifled her sobs and dried her tears, and still he held her; pulling knots out of her hair with gentle hands. 

 

“Why?” She asked. Because he didn’t need to, they weren’t friends.

 

“You’re a big baby…” Jaime huffed with disgust and Brienne went rigid, prepared to move to the sofa even if it was dark and cold downstairs. “…but you’ve lost your mom, and I know how that feels.” There was less disgust now, it had been replaced with sadness that sounded a lot like her own. The kind that overflowed your heart, filling everything.

 

When he reached toward the bedside table and picked up her piece of mistletoe she didn’t complain. It was pretty, but he could keep it; he’d been the one up the tree, after all. Jaime twirled it in his fingers then held it over her head, quickly kissing the crown before pushing her toward her side of the mattress. 

 

“Go back to bed, baby.” 

 

There was no more kindness after that; she didn’t expect any. The next morning at breakfast he sat beside Cersei, whispering in her ear as if Brienne weren’t there.  

 

When they were leaving, Renly’s dad asked if they would come back next year. Her father turned to Brienne for a reply. It hadn’t been awful. It was almost nice, and it wasn’t home. 

 

Home where her mother and brother weren’t.

 

Brienne nodded as politely as she could manage before saying, “We’d like that.”



Chapter Text

The next year, she wore a dress, something fished out of the teen department that was too short and too shiny. The saleswoman had said she looked nice, but it was a lie. She looked uncomfortable and out of place, playing dress up in the wrong costume. 

 

When she heard Renly’s father around the corner say something about a sow and a silk purse, she was sure who the sow was. 

 

Brienne and Tyrion sat on one side of the table, with Jaime, Cersei, and Renly across, and she knew this game too. She played it on the schoolyard, when the teams were picked and she was left standing. It was familiar, and it didn’t hurt much.

 

In the past year, Brienne had started seeing a therapist. She’d told her that it was normal to feel unattached, that her habit of feeling nothing was a pretty clever trick when every feeling hurt, but it wasn’t a good habit to keep. The therapist had encouraged Brienne to start a journal, to write down what she saw--what was funny or beautiful or just moments that she’d like to store in her head. Writing it down would make it solid, give her something she could run her fingers over and know it existed. 

 

Brienne quickly figured out that writing felt too much like homework, but she enjoyed drawing. 

 

After dinner she moved to a quiet corner near the tree and pulled out her sketch book that was already half full. She drew Renly’s eyes as he winked at her over dinner. It didn’t feel like real joking, not unless the joke was on her, but it didn’t matter. His eyes were cornflower blue with thick, black lashes. Beautiful eyes. It took two sharpens of her new blue pencil to get them right, and when she finished, Brienne decided that he was much prettier than Cersei. Flipping the page with a flourish, she started  a picture of her father laughing and pink-cheeked over dessert. Brienne had almost forgotten that he could laugh.

 

Good memories. Not perfect, but nice.

 

The other four were playing Monopoly. Tyrion was winning from the sound of Cersei’s screeching. Jaime was beside her. Twelve-year-old Jaime, who had stretched over the last year and looked a bit like a half-grown puppy, all length and paw and no meat. It didn’t make him less handsome, didn’t stop her stomach from doing a somersault when she first saw him again. He looked less like Cersei now, his jaw wider and his cheeks more empty and she doubted that he could put on her dress and fool anyone this year. 

 

When it came time for bed, she expected to sleep on the sofa. Jaime hadn’t said two words to her since she arrived, and this year she wasn’t the baby whose mom had just died. There was no reason for fake kindness. 

 

But he turned at the foot of the stairs and looked directly at her with that same, normal smile. “You coming, roomie?”

 

Brienne didn’t know what to say. Not when Jaime was smiling at her and Cersei was stomping and huffing her way past him on the stairwell. Not when everyone else seemed not to notice. That feeling of nothing washed over her, and she looked down to check that she was actually there, still tall and ugly and covered in silk. 

 

She was. 

 

Brienne picked up her pink bag and followed. The bedroom was the same, and the silence was the same, and before long she was lying next to Jaime facing the wall. 

 

“What did you draw?” 

 

She had thought he was asleep, but Brienne rolled over to find Jaime staring at her, eyes shining in the light through the window. He didn’t seem to be poking fun, and she remembered his open, kind face from the year before. This face. It felt like the other Jaime— Cersei’s Jaime, Renly’s Jaime—was a mask that he took off at bedtime. Maybe this was the real Jaime. It was a silly thought. 

 

It didn’t matter, none of this mattered. So she pulled out her sketchbook and he clicked on the bedside lamp and she turned the pages, letting him see. He mostly looked in silence as she told him what each picture was, why she drew it. There was one of a girl playing soccer, her long brown ponytail floating behind her. Jaime put a hand over hers to stop the page from flipping. 

 

“Who’s that?”

 

“A girl in my class.” Brienne frowned at the question.

 

“Why did you draw it?” 

 

“I thought she was pretty. The way her legs moved when she ran, her hair…” It hadn’t meant anything, she just was. Pretty. 

 

“You like girls?” His voice didn’t change. She didn’t think Jaime was judging her, or maybe he was good at hiding what he thought, but he sounded curious. Only curious. 

 

“I’m nine. I don’t know what I like.” That was a mostly honest answer. I like you hovered on her tongue, but she knew that was a very stupid thing to say, even for a nine-year-old. “What about you?” 

 

She’d seen him kiss Cersei, and she’d seen him kiss Renly, and that had to mean something, didn’t it?

 

“I don’t know either. I don’t like anyone, not really.” He sighed, his shoulders slumped with the admission. “I think I’m looking for someone, some person...my person.” Jaime shook his head, looking a lot like his sister when she didn’t get her way. “Cersei says I’m dumb, that what I feel doesn’t make any sense.”

 

It did, to her anyway. She was alone too. 

 

“Maybe you should write down what you’re looking for in a friend, so that you don’t miss them.” Brienne thought her therapist would like that idea. 

 

He grinned, either finding her suggestion good or ridiculous. With Jaime, it was hard to tell. 

 

“I will. I’ll make a book, like yours. Next year we’ll compare notes.” 

 

Brienne smiled and nodded, glad she might have helped him. It must be hard she thought, being half of a pair, especially with Cersei as the other half. She took up so much space. 

 

“I have something for you.” He reached into his knapsack and pulled out the dried up piece of mistletoe, more a stick now, all the berries gone. 

 

He held it over her head and Brienne felt her cheeks burn, felt the heat creep down her neck to her chest. She was glad for the shadows as Jaime leaned in and kissed her temple, a quick brush of lips. Nothing, it meant nothing. 

 

“Now it’s your turn to keep it.” Jaime placed the little brown stem in her palm, and Brienne closed her fingers around it gingerly. A treasure. A treasure from a beautiful boy. 

 

But it meant nothing. 

 

“I-I don’t have anything for you.” 

 

“You don’t have to…” He covered her hand with his, and she did. She really did.

 

“Here.” She ripped out the picture of the girl running, placed it on his lap. “It’s my favorite.”

 

He smiled at the picture, placed it carefully on the bedside stand before turning out the light.

 

“Goodnight, my blue-eyed baby.” Jaime laughed, but it didn’t sting. Then he rolled on his side and faced the wall.

 

Brienne didn’t expect anything to change, so she wasn’t disappointed when Jaime still trailed behind Cersei, smiling at her cruel words and occasionally shushing them away. She didn’t mind that Renly laughed at everything and nothing, never thinking of anyone else. They were them, and she was not, and it didn’t matter. Not really.

 

When they stood on the stoop at the end of their visit, Mr. Baratheon once again asked if they would return next holiday. Brienne didn’t belong here, with these beautiful children in this beautiful house.

 

The stick felt heavy in her pocket.

 

“I’d really like that.” Brienne smiled at the big man, and she meant it.



Chapter Text

She was ten. Double digits. She liked her therapist, and with her help Brienne was starting to like living again. Living without her mother, without her brother. It felt like betrayal, some days. 

 

Today was a good day. Today she was going to the Baratheon’s and she would see Jaime again. He would look at her sketches and show her his book and they would share a room and stories. It felt like having a friend, for a few minutes at least. 

 

Except it wasn’t…friendly. Jaime sat beside Cersei at dinner and Brienne sat with Tyrion like some punishment, and the twins talked and laughed as she looked at her plate and she remembered that she didn’t belong here. With him.

 

“How’s your girlfriend?” Cersei’s voice rang along the table, crisp and clear as a bell, intentionally loud.

 

Brienne glanced at Jaime first, expecting him to answer, but he looked just as confused as she felt. Cersei was staring at her with narrowed eyes, icy green slits that chilled the air between them.

 

“The girl in the drawing, the one you gave Jaime. Does she even know you exist?” Her voice was louder somehow, clearer. Brienne saw her father raise his head. “If that was me, and I found out…” She threw her head back and flipped her perfect curls, a mean sound bubbling from her throat. “I think I’d kill myself if a beast like you loved me.” 

 

Brienne felt the tears between her lashes. If her mother were here she’d tell this horrible girl that she was the beast, that her rotten heart was a thousand times uglier than Brienne’s plain face. It shouldn’t matter, none of this should matter.

 

But her mother wasn’t here.

 

What if Jaime thought the same thing? What if her attention had embarrassed him ?

 

“Stop it.” His voice was lower than Brienne remembered, the first time she’d heard it since arriving. He gave his twin’s wrist a rough little shake. “I mean it Cers, cut it out.”

 

“I didn’t mean to insult your pet.”

 

“Enough of your crap!” Jaime was angry, scarily angry. Brienne studied his face, the sharp cut of his jaw, his flashing eyes. She didn’t know him, this boy sitting so tall across from her. 

 

How much of that anger is for me, for wanting to be his friend? She wouldn’t wait to find out. 

 

“I-I’m done. Please excuse me.” Brienne pushed back from the table and nearly tripped over her feet as she turned for the door. Cersei chuckled behind her. 

 

“Why do you have to be this way?” Jaime’s words followed as she rounded the door to the hallway.

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

He was waiting for her at the foot of the stairs, like last year, and the year before. Brienne fluffed her pillow on the sofa, curled into a ball and faced the fireplace.

 

“You won’t come?” He sounded sad, and she didn’t care. Let him be sad for once. 

 

“No.” Just go. 

 

“Don’t be such a baby.” There was a thump...again…and again. Rubber against wood, he was kicking the bottom step. “This is our last year.” 

 

“Why?” Brienne kept her head on the pillow, determined not to look.

 

“Because I’m thirteen and you’re ten.” He sighed so loud it whistled out his nose. 

 

“So?”

 

“So next year…when we’re fourteen and eleven ? They’ll think I’m up to something creepy.” 

 

“Creepy?” 

 

“Shut up, baby.” He snarled the answer, and Brienne didn’t understand why he was upset. Why it mattered, when it didn’t. 

 

It was quiet for so long that Brienne was certain he had left, Jaime was never silent. “Why are you so mad with me?   I didn’t say those things, I’m not her.”

 

“Yes, you are.” Close enough, she thought. 

 

Brienne heard him sniffle and knew she had hurt him, knew it was wrong, but she hurt and hurt, and why shouldn’t he? Just a little. It was better than empty.

 

Jaime waited a few more minutes, and she pressed her eyes closed, until finally he climbed the stairs. 

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

Things felt different the next morning. 

 

Jaime was still Jaime, and Cersei was still Cersei, and it was sometimes hard to tell where he ended and she began, but it seemed as if the line between them had shifted. Jaime had claimed a little more of his own space, had tugged it out of his sister’s greedy hands.

 

He had a new camera, a present for his birthday, and they walked in two groups through the woods near the house as he took pictures. Renly and Cersei were one island and Tyrion and Brienne were another, and Jaime shuttled back and forth between the two like the ferry from Tarth to the mainland. Not belonging to either.

 

“Did you bring your sketch pad?”

 

She had, it was tucked in her backpack. Brienne didn’t feel like talking yet, so she nodded and stared until he drifted back toward his sister.

 

Spiteful.

 

Her father had used the word, and she thought it suited how she was acting. She also thought that maybe Jaime deserved it; Cersei certainly did. There was part of her that liked seeing him uncomfortable, liked the way his big green eyes kept glancing over his shoulder to see if she was following. 

 

After walking a while, Cersei stomped her foot and declared, “This is booooring. ” Without a second glance at anyone else, she turned back toward the house. 

 

Renly followed, and Tyrion followed, and Jaime was the flag in the middle of a tug-of-war rope, shifting a foot toward his sister, then a foot back. He met Brienne’s eyes and smiled that normal smile, the foot-of-the-stairs smile that she had started to think was hers.

 

“Would you like to stay? It’s a half hour hike to a lake, but it’s nice there.” He was asking her, just her.

 

Brienne nodded, terrified that this meant something, at least to her. She put a hand over her heart for protection.

 

Cersei snorted, so loud that her nostrils flared, and Brienne thought she wasn’t pretty at all just then. “Stupid losers.” She spit the words, then stomped off.

 

Renly laughed, at Cersei or at her, Brienne wasn’t sure. He and Tyrion trailed Cersei toward the house, not hurrying to catch up.

 

It was a quiet walk, and a quiet stay. Brienne sat on a flat rock near the water and spread out her pencils while Jaime strolled around the shoreline taking pictures. Every so often he would wander back, look down at her book and nod, sometimes pointing out a shape or a color that he liked, then wander away again.

 

There were lots of things to draw there: the reflection of trees, the pile of mossy rocks lying right in front of her, a fern with delicate leaves that she found growing in the shade of the forest. Brienne sketched Jaime with his camera, lying flat on his stomach to get just the right angle across the shimmering water. That one was her favorite.

 

At dinner he sat by Cersei, and she wouldn’t look at Brienne, not once. Jaime pretended not to notice, and he talked enough for everyone. 

 

He waited for her again that night, with the same smile. This time Cersei lurked in the hallway, watching. Brienne had the strange thought that if she didn’t say “yes”, Cersei would, if only to snatch back the scrap of attention she had stolen.

 

So Brienne followed, mostly because she missed him terribly the night before, but also to spite Cersei. 

 

Maybe she was spiteful.  

 

Cersei had him the rest of the year. Brienne would claim her two nights. 

 

They were both quiet as they took turns across the hall putting on their pajamas, but it was less awkward than before, and by the time she crawled onto her side of the bed, he was cross-legged on the covers with a laptop open. 

 

“I don’t write, not very well anyway, so a book wasn’t happening.” He clicked on a file labeled “B” , and a screen-full of thumbnails popped open. “I took pictures instead.”

 

Brienne pulled out the two sketchbooks she had filled over the last year, and they went back and forth, trading stories of why they had picked these particular memories to save. There was a girl with a friendly laugh that had caught his eye, and a smiling, red-headed boy who Jaime said was his best friend in school; the gravesite of her mom and lots of pretty sunsets. She had drawn the mistletoe as she remembered it that first day, and he had found some near his house in late fall, after the leaves left the branches bare. He took a picture of it, outlined against a clear blue sky. 

 

“Have you found your person?” She ran her fingers over the red-head’s image.

 

He shook his head. “I don’t think so, not yet.” 

 

For some reason that made her happy, even if it made Jaime sad. 

 

She fished in her bag for the bit of mistletoe, one year more broken and bent. He smiled as she handed it to him.

 

“Today was fun, baby.”

 

“It’s Brienne, you jerk.” She didn’t mean it, and he seemed to know because he laughed, low and fond.

 

“I’ll miss you next year …Brienne. ” It might have been the first time he said her name, and it rolled off his tongue so prettily that she stared. It didn’t sound like her name at all. 

 

Holding the mistletoe over her head, Jaime barely touched his lips to her cheek, sweet and too quick, and Brienne would have cried if she’d thought about next year, about not getting a kiss. Then he whispered “you keep it,” and handed her the bare little stick. She rolled over without prompting, settling into her side of the bed. 

 

“I’ll miss you too.” It was hard to talk, when everything in her wanted to weep.

 

Beneath the covers she clutched her fist to her cheek.



Chapter Text

She thought about Jaime all year. 

 

Not continuously, that would have been pathetic. 

 

It would strike her out of the blue, little pokes to her brain that sent her chasing after his memory at the oddest times. Shopping in a used book store with her dad while he studied an encyclopedia of ancient castles, Brienne found photography textbooks and wondered if Jaime would like one. On her way to school, the girl on the bus in front of her had hair that curled over her ears just like his, and Brienne pulled out her sketchbook to remember.

 

When the invitation from the Baratheons came, she almost asked her father to say no, afraid that the truth of Jaime wouldn’t live up to her little-girl daydreams. Their brilliant day together seemed far away from the grey light of Tarth, and maybe she had remembered it as she wanted, instead of as it was. 

 

It was nothing, she was sure. Not to him.

 

Still, the temptation was too strong. So she packed her pink bag and climbed in the car, hoping her disappointment wouldn’t hurt too badly.

 

Jaime was sitting on the bottom step, next to the scuff mark from the year before. He seemed to be waiting.

 

“Hey.” He stood when she approached, awkward. 

 

Filled out was what the parents said, and in Jaime’s case it fit. His voice was fuller, and his chest and face as well. More round, a little soft, but in a way that made her feel full, too. Like the air wouldn’t leave her lungs. 

 

“Hey.” 

 

“I ummm, the others are already at the table and I wondered if…I kinda thought you might like to sit by me this year?” 

 

It was an unfamiliar feeling, to be wanted, to be waited for. Like the pop-up books she had loved when she was younger, each page unexpected and delightful and so easy to tear apart. Jaime’s attention was surprising, fragile in her clumsy hands. 

 

That night they sat together on the sofa, and Brienne ached with missing him, even though he was right there. She knew what his pajamas looked like, knew his sleepy voice and his pillow hair, and none of that belonged to her. 

 

He took the sofa, and she took the big bed, and she fell asleep on her side, facing the wall. 


🎄🎄🎄

 

The next morning they went walking in the woods again, just the two of them. Cersei had scoffed and rolled her pretty green eyes when Jaime asked if she would like to come along, all the while knowing that she really didn’t enjoy being outdoors much anymore.

 

They found their lake and then followed a stream uphill to the top of a small rise. There was a break in the trees, and the sky was high and clear. Brienne could just make out the black line of Tarth on the horizon. 

 

“There’s home.” She pointed it out and Jaime took several pictures before turning back to her.

 

“Stand in front of it. I want one of you with the island in the background.”

 

“Why?” She didn’t like having her picture taken; when she stood still, all her flaws seemed bigger.

 

“I dunno.” He shrugged, then quickly snapped one of her face close up. 

 

“Jaime, don’t!”

 

“Why not?”

 

“I bet I look stupid.” Brienne huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. A picture would just remind him of what an ugly little girl she was. It wouldn’t let her pretend that it was different, that she was different. 

 

He was smiling at the view screen, a real smile, a fond smile. 

 

“You have a lot of freckles.” He chuckled. Normally she would cringe when someone examined her so closely, but from his mouth it didn’t sound like such a bad thing.  

 

He turned to her with pleading eyes, and she thought that he could get anything with those eyes, if he learned how to use them. 

 

“Let me take a picture of you in front of Tarth, Brienne. Please. I want to look at it and think about you there, to imagine you drawing and going to school and happy.”

 

And his words, and his eyes, and the please were too much. So she did.

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

After everyone else was asleep, Brienne snuck downstairs to find Jaime awake on the sofa. He was watching the stairwell as she ran down, and the grin he wore was so pleased that she stopped short on the bottom step to take it in. That unfamiliar feeling of being wanted, of being wished for, expanded in her chest again.

 

“I was about to wake you up.” He patted the seat beside him. “Can’t skip my favorite holiday tradition.”

 

Her heart hurt for him…and for her.  All of her traditions had skidded off a wet road, never to be repeated. Did he know what this meant to her, that after all these years her home still felt too hollow to hold a tradition? That he had given her something to look forward to, something to fill the nothingness? She thought that maybe he did, that maybe he felt the same.

 

So she pulled out her sketchbooks, and he opened his laptop, and they traded memories. 

 

She showed him a drawing of another runner, this one a boy with eyes like milk chocolate who had befriended her on the middle school track team. He shared pictures of surfers on a beach near his home; Jaime had skipped school to watch. There were more sunsets and a few sunrises, trees and leaves and waves and waves. They both lived near the sea, and she wondered if the water she drew ever ended up lapping against his ankles. She hoped so. 

 

When they were done, she asked him which of the drawings he wanted this year, and he very seriously pointed to the one of the boy. He never mocked this, even when he joked about so many things, even though she was eleven and she wanted to be a great artist, but she wasn’t yet. He treated this special, he treated her special, and Brienne wasn’t sure why or for how long, but she wanted to cling to every minute.

 

“I have something for you.” He reached beneath the sofa cushion and pulled out a small package that he had wrapped himself. Not neat like her mother used to do.

 

It was a set of markers, nice ones, and she opened the box and took them all out, lined them up on the coffee table and started reading aloud the name of each color.  It was a silly thing to do, a babyish thing. After the first three or four she realized how stupid she must look.

 

“I-I’m sorry.” Her voice caught, and Jaime frowned at her words.

 

“For what?”

 

“This.” She indicated the rainbow of markers.

 

“For liking my gift?” He nudged her shoulder. “I love that you love them. Tell me the names.” So she did. 

 

Afterward, Brienne pulled out their piece of mistletoe. She’d stored it in a snack bag that her dad bought to pack lunches, and out of the plastic it looked smaller in her hand; or maybe she was just bigger. 

 

Jaime took it, turned it over in his palm.

 

“I can’t kiss you this year, baby.” For some reason, she didn’t mind the name when he said it like that, but she squinted at the rest of his words.

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I’m fourteen, and that’s too old to kiss you.” He sighed it, looked at her with a smile that wasn’t as bright as usual. 

 

It took her a second to recognize the change as sadness, which was odd because she knew sadness, but not in Jaime. Jaime who should be laughing.

 

“Am I too old to kiss you? ” She asked in a rush, and Jaime cocked his head, slow to reply. 

 

Brienne thought of the rest of the year, how she planned, and daydreamed, and waited for this moment, for him. He didn’t know, he couldn’t, because it wasn’t the same for Jaime. 

 

Jaime with that smile and those eyes. Jaime who could talk all day but was easy to listen to, who moved like the world didn’t hold him down as firmly as it did her. Jaime who wasn’t like her. 

 

His life would move on, and she guessed hers would too, but she wanted this terribly…

 

Before he could stop her, Brienne leaned over and kissed his cheek, barely registering the warm skin beneath hers and then it was done. She covered her lips with her fingers.

 

He had gasped when she kissed him; a sound so soft that it could only be heard by her ear against his mouth, and then he was laughing. It bounced around the room, all his sadness gone. 

 

“I guess you’re not.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and gave a hard squeeze. Brienne settled against him, watching the embers glow orange, and it was warm against her face and Jaime was warm at her side and she thought of asking to stay. The sofa was big enough. “You should go back to sleep, before your father finds you downstairs.” 

 

Brienne did as he asked, not wanting to stay too long. She thought that maybe she would never get tired of Jaime, and she shouldn’t expect the same from him. He was older, and she was just a kid, and life wasn’t fair like that. 

 

Alone on her side of the bed she thought of his cheek, of his strong arm around her shoulders and his laugh filling her ears. She thought of that gasp, but wasn’t sure why.



Chapter Text

Brienne bought him a book, two books actually, because she couldn’t pick between them. One was a dull instruction manual, but it had a lot of diagrams and less text, and she remembered what he had said about not liking words overmuch, so maybe this would be easier to understand.  The second book was her favorite: a collection of well-known landscape photographs and a detailed history of how they were made.  Everything from the kind of camera used and what the settings were, to where the photographer stood, the time of day it was taken and the weather report.

 

Each page was a story, a plan and a path and all the little parts that fell into place to finish with something breathtaking. Reading it made Brienne think there might be a rhythm to the randomness of the world, made her hope that it extended to her tiny corner of it.

 

She was twelve now. 

 

She was twelve and Jaime was fifteen…one year closer to eighteen, and one year closer to him leaving for university, and then what they had would disappear. It was as fleeting as the moments in that book, meant to burn itself out. 

 

Fireflies in summer, here then gone. 

 

But if she captured what she felt right now , and she soaked up every minute they spent together then sealed them in her mind. If she drew them and she memorized them, then maybe this feeling would live on, like a photograph, like something breathtaking.

 

Brienne wrapped the books herself, and when they arrived at the Baratheons she was the first one out of the car and knocking on the door.

 

Jaime wasn’t there.

 

He wasn’t in the foyer or on the stairs, he wasn’t at the table. There were two open chairs across from Cersei and Renly, and she hovered behind one, waiting for him to appear.

 

“He’s not here, pet. ” Cersei was smiling, and it wasn’t pretty. “The idiot screwed up, got himself shipped off to boarding school, too dumb to fool around properly.”

 

Brienne tried not to look struck, even though she felt the snap; it crawled up her neck and settled hot in her cheeks. 

 

“Stop it, Cersei. Can’t you see she’s upset?” Renly chuckled, and it was fake and ugly. Brienne wasn’t sure why she hadn’t noticed how ugly his laugh was before.

 

“Serves him right for kissing some low-class boy right under father’s nose.” 

 

Some boy. 

 

Kissing. 

 

The words buzzed in her ears, and they burned in her chest. Brienne had known all along he was humoring her, that his kisses weren’t real kisses, and she was just a way to pass the time until Jaime found his friend, the friend. But she hadn’t been ready, not this year. 

 

“Tyrion said he’s an okay chap, good-looking and all.” Renly was still laughing. He swirled his tea like imaginary wine. 

 

Brienne wanted to grab his hand and tell him that he was full of crap, that they were both full of crap, that this whole party was overflowing with phony crap. The only part that had meant anything, the only reason for coming, was missing. 

 

“Oh he’s pretty, but his father drives a truck and his mother teaches second grade. Not at all suitable for a Lannister.” Cersei shook her head, seeming oh so sorry for her brother. Brienne thought she was enjoying this very much. “We both know my father won’t rest until Jaime is married to the right kind of girl and she’s pregnant. It’s all about the heirs, love be damned.”

 

Cersei was talking as if she weren’t there, and that same nothingness tugged at Brienne’s edges. It was familiar, comfortable almost, and it would be easy to disappear from this conversation and this place. Disappearing felt like losing, and she wouldn’t lose here, not to them. 

 

Is he…” Brienne spoke and they raised their heads, remembering that she was there. “…in love? Does Jaime love him?”

 

“Stupid little girl.” Cersei snarled, and for once her voice matched her heart. “What does it matter? It’s over. He’s gone. I doubt father will let him return home until graduation, and then he’ll be off to university.”

 

It’s over. Her head slumped, and she nodded, and there really wasn’t anything more to say to either of them, so she ate in silence and excused herself quickly. 

 

That night she laid on her side of the bed, unable to sleep.

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

Brienne spent the next day walking in the woods, sitting at their lake. She drew a picture of a heron on one leg at the water’s edge and imagined Jaime with his camera trying to sneak through the rushes before it flew away, how he would have laughed as it soared across the water. 

 

At dinner she sat beside her father, and was surprised when Tyrion took the seat beside her.  “I can’t stand Cersei, not without Jaime, “ he whispered with his back to his sister. Brienne nodded in agreement.

 

They ate in silence, listening to the parents gossip and reminisce. She and Tyrion didn’t have much to talk about, but his presence at her side felt like support, and for that she was thankful. As everyone was standing, he pulled an envelope from his pocket. 

 

“Jaime asked me to give this to you tonight. He said it was very important, and to keep it a secret from Cersei because…how did he so eloquently put it?” Tyrion tapped his chin in mock thought, obviously enjoying the spotlight. “Oh yes, I remember. ‘The bitch likes to shit on everything.’ ” Tyrion cackled, drawing stares all along the table, and Brienne covered her smile. 

 

Inside the envelope was their scrap of mistletoe and a scribbled note:  

 

I’m sorry that you’re there without me. Call me if you can, please ."  

 

He’d underlined the please, twice, and included his cell phone number. 

 

Brienne didn’t have a phone, and even though it was slightly mortifying to do so, she asked to borrow her father’s. When he asked why, she handed him the note and waited. Whatever he saw on her face, as he looked back and forth between it and the paper, must have convinced him. He handed the phone over saying: “Keep it. I don’t need it until tomorrow.”

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

Brienne sat at one end of the sofa and stared into the embers, letting the heat soak into her face, letting it trickle through her limbs. She had changed into pajamas and snuck downstairs with pillow and blanket in hand, determined not to spend another night alone in that big bed. 

 

He wanted her to call, had gone out of his way to send the note and the mistletoe. He’d said please. 

 

So even if she really didn’t want to hear what he had to say, even if she was jealous of his beautiful boy—the one in the photo with the fiery hair and the pretty smile, she was sure—Brienne owed it to him to call.   

 

It rang four times, and she was about to hang up without leaving a message when Jaime picked up, his voice lower than she remembered and raspy with sleep.

 

“Umm…hello?”

 

“Hey, uh hey. It’s me.” Her voice broke, she grimaced.

 

Baby Brienne.” He laughed, and it was so sweet and rich that it made her blush. “I was afraid you might not want to talk to me, or you wouldn’t have a phone.”

 

“I don’t… have a phone I mean, n-not.” She groaned, and Jaime must have heard because he chuckled again. This wasn’t going the way she wanted. Why was she still such a girl, such a baby? “Of course I want to talk to you.”

 

“I wasn’t sure what Cersei would say.” There was a long pause, a nervous hesitation that settled into silence.

 

Brienne wanted to know, she did. Rip the bandage off. That’s what her father said, and she should, rip it off.

 

“Do you love him, the boy in the photo?” The boy you kissed? She couldn’t not think it, no matter how hard she tried.

 

“No.” Jaime sighed, long and loud and so very sad. “He’s been my friend since first grade, my best friend, and I thought , I hoped, that when I kissed him I would feel...something. That maybe he was the person, my person.”

 

“Oh.” 

 

She was a bad friend, a horrible friend, because she was glad.

 

“Instead, all I felt was lips, and they were full a-and wet, and well, nice …but my gut didn’t clench and my heart didn’t pound and it only happened that one stupid time.” He snorted, more frustrated than amused. “Of course, of course my father caught us. I really am an idiot.”

 

“No. Jaime you’re not, you were just, just…”

 

“Pathetic?”

 

“No.”

 

“Desperate? Weird? Wired wrong?

 

“Lonely. Jaime, you were lonely. Everyone gets lonely.” This made sense, this she could understand.

 

“Everyone else feels things, everyone else wants to do things , and I don’t. There’s something wrong with that, Brienne.”  She didn’t know why he was so upset, not really. It was just a kiss, and he was still Jaime.

 

Jaime who was beautiful and good, even when he wasn’t brave enough to show it.

 

“Your father was too harsh. Do you really have to stay there? He’ll change his mind, won’t he?”

 

“You obviously don’t know Tywin Lannister. I’m stuck.” 

 

“I’m so sorry.” She was, about that part at least. 

 

“It’s okay, really. The school has a great photography club, and I might join the swim team. They sorta suck and need bodies.” He laughed then, a real laugh, and Brienne felt her mood lift hearing it. “The only downside is you. I won’t see you again, Brienne.” 

 

“I know.” It was hard, talking around the sudden lump in her throat. She wondered if he could hear it, if he knew how completely his words tore her up. “We’ll talk and we’ll send pictures, it won’t be the same, b-but we can make it work, we’ll make do.” It went quiet on the line, both of them thinking it through.

 

When he finally spoke she could hear him smiling. “So send me a picture of you already.” 

 

“Jaime, I can’t. You know I don’t like how I look.”

 

“I like it. You look like Brienne...sweet, funny, kind Brienne. My friend.” He paused, and she felt him gearing up for an argument. “Send me a damn picture.”

 

She took out the mistletoe, placed it in the palm of her hand and snapped a shot. His phone pinged with the message, he huffed in response.

 

“It doesn’t count if I can’t see your face. Come on, Brienne, it’s been a whole year since I saw you.”

 

“I don’t know…”

 

“I’ll start.” 

 

The phone buzzed and a picture of Jaime filled the screen. He looked different, less like a boy and more like a man, but the eyes were the same; they sparkled back at her, bright green with mischief. Jaime had puckered his lips in an exaggerated kiss, his mouth filling nearly half the screen. She tried not to imagine what those lips had felt like on her cheek, how they might feel pressed to hers.

 

“What’s this?” Brienne chuckled, failing at sounding unflustered.

 

“Don’t be daft, that’s your mistletoe kiss.”

 

“I thought I was too young for kissing.” 

 

“Not virtual ones.” He was quite pleased with that answer, and she gave him a laugh in reply. “Your turn.”

 

She held the mistletoe in front of her forehead then fumbled one-handed to take the shot. It was a good angle, kind of artsy with only the mistletoe and half her face showing. Her mouth was still too wide, and her nose was littered with freckles, but her eye was stunning, even if it was hers; unnatural blue, electric blue, the pupil stretched wide in the low light. If you stared long enough, you could find the embers of the fire reflected there. 

 

Before she could second-guess she sent it, heard Jaime’s phone ping and his appreciative grunt.

 

“You’ve changed.” He sighed again, but this one sounded satisfied. “Look at that eye. I’d forgotten the color, like a winter sky.”

 

It was a compliment, she was fairly certain. Brienne blushed under the warmth of it.

 

“I’ll ask dad for a phone of my own, we won’t let this go.” She was trying to convince herself,  it sounded a little desperate.

 

“Don’t worry about it, Brienne. I’ll just bombard Mr. Tarth with a lot of embarrassing photos.”

 

“Jaime, you wouldn’t…” There was dead silence in reply, and Brienne stretched it out until her nervous energy wouldn’t be quiet any more. “Oh God, you would. You so totally would.”

 

Then they were both laughing, and it felt natural, and easy, and so very real. 

 

“Happy Holidays, Brienne.” He grinned the words over the distance.

 

“Happy Holidays, Jaime.” Then, as an afterthought: “I’ll send you my number when I have one.”

 

“Okay. Well, umm bye, I guess.” And like that he was gone, truly gone.  

 

She listened to the line go silent, then listened for an unhealthy amount of time to the nothing that stretched between them.

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

The next morning she slipped the books to Tyrion under the breakfast table along with her drawing of the heron. He promised to deliver them to Jaime whenever he was allowed to visit.

 

Mr. Baratheon politely showed them to the door, and when he asked if they would return next year, her father gave Brienne a knowing glance. “Thank you for the generous offer, Steffon. You can’t know what it’s meant to us to have somewhere to go these last few years.” He paused, took Brienne’s hand. “I think it’s time that my daughter and I discover our own traditions.”



Chapter Text

She begged for a phone. There was no pride in the way she prodded and sulked and wheedled her way into getting one, desperate times and all.

 

“Send me a picture of you, Brienne. I’ll use it as my lock screen” Jaime was her first call, and he'd wasted not a minute, immediately plucking a nerve.

 

“No.”

 

“What do you mean, no?

 

“I mean no, I will not send you a picture of me.” It had seemed fairly straightforward.

 

“Why not?”

 

Sometimes she wasn’t sure what world Jaime lived in. The world where it was normal for a gorgeous, half-grown man to have an ugly little girl as his wallpaper.

 

“Because everyone will ask who I am, and you’ll have to come up with something.”

 

“Can’t I just say that you’re my friend?” 

 

He could. She still felt exposed at the idea. “I don’t know…

 

“It doesn’t matter, I’ll just use the one you already sent, the one with the mistletoe.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“Aren’t you going to ask me for one?” She could hear him smirking.

 

“No.”

 

“No?”

 

“No, definitely not.” 

 

Brienne wasn’t about to explain that all her school friends would think he was some model from the internet. That they would shake their heads and wonder who she was trying to fool, that behind her back they would call her pathetic. 

 

“Your loss, baby. ” There was a drop of venom in the name this time, like he cared if she had his picture on her phone. Like it mattered.

 

After he hung up, Brienne snuck into her father’s room and sent the photo of Jaime with his dumb kissy face to her phone. She stared at his puckered lips and sparkling eyes and wondered what it would be like if he was hers, really hers.


🎄🎄🎄

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hey.”

 

“You busy?”  

 

I was thinking about you was the truth, but not a good answer. “No, just doodling.”

 

“What?”

 

“It’s stupid.”

 

“Come on, Brienne. You know all my stupid secrets.”

 

“I’m drawing my favorite singer.” God that’s girly, so girly.

 

“Send me a picture, please, lemme see.” He didn’t plead for long. She would cave, they both knew it. 

 

Jaime made her brave, and he made her nervous, and he dismantled her worry with infuriating ease. Brienne sent it, then fretted.  

 

“I know it’s not that go-…”

 

“It is, it’s good. You’re getting better.”

 

“I…” Take a compliment, take his compliment. “I think so too. My teacher wants me to apply for the visual and performing arts program next year.”

 

I told you, you’re talented.”Jaime paused, but it didn’t feel strained, and when he spoke again his tone was happy. “Are you using my markers?”

 

“I am.” She bit her lip. “I used the peach-colored one until it ran out.”

 

“I’ll send you another, they sell them at the school store.”

 

“It’s not a big deal, you don’t…”

 

“My treat, Brienne. It makes me happy to think of you using them.” 

 

There it was again, that word, that feeling. The idea of him happy with her, happy because of her, was a terrible thing to let grow. When it died the hole would be ten times bigger.

 

“I am…happy using them.”  I hold them, and I think of you, and the things I draw are prettier because of it.  

 

What a terrible thing. 

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy thirteenth birthday dear Briennnnne. Happy birthday to you.”




“I missed your call.”

 

“You did.” 

 

“You left me a video, a-and you sang.” 

 

He’d been a bit off-tune but oh, so sweet. Hurrying to class with a backpack over his shoulder, the wind in his collar and a lift in his steps. Golden voice, and golden hair, and a golden glow about him. 

 

“I did.” He was grinning, his words floated from the speaker. “Do you like it?”

 

“I love it.”


🎄🎄🎄

 

Brienne mailed Jaime’s package weeks in advance, “DO NOT OPEN” in big black letters on the box. She hadn’t really shopped so much as grazed for gifts, collecting trinkets that made her think of him, not always from a store.

 

On a whim she’d asked her dad to buy an extra boosters shirt for her track team, “Team Tarth” on the back, the Tidal Waves logo on the front. After she mailed it, Brienne wondered if it was weird to send Jaime a shirt meant for friends and family, if he would quietly make fun of her.

 

Their mistletoe was packed in a separate box at the bottom, brown and brittle. She’d pressed it to her lips once, then tucked it in place. 

 

Sending Jaime’s present was the only weak spot in Brienne’s otherwise rock-solid denial that a holiday was approaching. She and her father walked the perimeter with caution, throwing out the rare mention that something might be happening in a few weeks. 

 

It was foolish, and they both knew it. 

 

What they’d lost would still find them, two silent guests in two empty chairs, and it really didn’t matter if there were no decorations, if there were no presents or home-cooked meal. The pain would find them, either way.

 

“We need a tree.” They were having dinner, just the two, and she mumbled it between bites. Her father’s eyes drifted to the corner where her mother had spent hours arranging and rearranging ornaments. “Let’s cut one this year.”

 

He grunted. For years they’d used an artificial tree, the mess of a real evergreen too much with young children. “You’d like that?” She nodded, and the conversation dropped.

 

The next day they went to a farm. Brienne carried the little saw and her father packed twine, and they weaved in and out of rows and rows of trees. It felt like an adventure. The winter sun cast long shadows, pine filled her nose, and for a minute she could pretend she was back in the forest, their forest. 

 

On the way home she convinced him to drive down a wooded road until they spotted mistletoe in a low branch, convinced him to hoist her on his shoulders so she could pull herself up, then shimmy out far enough to pick it. 

 

🎄🎄🎄



The holiday arrived. They had stew, and they had bread, and if it wasn’t quite as good, and it wasn’t exactly the same, that was all right. It was nice, exceptionally nice.

 

That night Brienne laid under the tree looking up at the lights, feeling smaller than she should. She was still there when her phone rang.

 

“Hey, baby.” The teasing didn’t bother her anymore, not when it was said so fondly. “You going to let me open this box or not?”

 

“Who’s the baby now?” She tried the word out, but it felt too intimate and awkward in her mouth. Jaime cackled in reply, clearly not offended. 

 

They were together, in a way. Jaime’s breathing filled her ear as he held the phone with his chin and ripped off the paper. Brienne opened her box from him, pulled out one item at a time and placed them in a circle around her. 

 

He had gifted her his year, and she realized now that she had done the same. A year of drawings and pictures, of scraps of paper scribbled with words, of pretty shells and pressed flowers and tacky souvenirs collected along the way. They talked about each small thing, who it was or where it came from, why it deserved a place in the box. Brienne soaked it in, desperate to cover the gaps, to paint a full portrait of who this Jaime was. He was more restrained but just as questioning, and she wondered why he doted on her. She liked his attention too much to ask. 

 

Without planning they had exchanged school shirts, Brienne laughed with relief as she unfolded his. 

 

Team Tarth.” She could hear the material unfurl as he shook it out, followed by his satisfied huff. “That’s me.” 

 

He can break me.  

 

She held her breath at the realization. Maybe not with the same shooting pain that losing her mother and brother had brought, but with a wrenching agony that would certainly do the trick. 

 

He can break me, and I would let him.

 

That was worse. But if her choice was to slink back into the horrible nothing or to let Jaime wreck her, she would choose the wrecking. Brienne thought it might be worth it, that he was worth it. 

 

“Send me a kiss, Brienne.” His voice was fuzzy and a little sleepy. It made her feel strange inside.

 

You first. You have the mistletoe.” Her phone chimed, and he was there, mistletoe pressed to pink lips, puckered dramatically. 

 

Sixteen. He was sixteen now. Jaime at sixteen and beautiful.

 

“You have hair...on your chin.” Patches of blonde stubble.

 

“I do, I’m afraid.” He chuckled, at himself, and her. “No more stalling, your turn.”

 

Brienne didn’t move, she stayed under the tree, aimed the phone through the low hanging branches and made a kissing face. 

 

“I can see the twinkle lights. You’re twinkling.” He hummed, and it was happy. That strange feeling intensified, she giggled to make it stop. 

 

“Happy Holidays, Jaime.” 

 

“Happy Holidays, Brienne. I-I’ll call you tomorrow. Okay?”

 

“Okay.”



Chapter Text

 

“Homework?”   Jaime only texted one word, but she understood.

 

“Drawing.”  

 

“Together?” 

 

Brienne had expected the second question, was already opening her laptop and connecting to the internet when her phone chimed. 

 

“On my way.”

 

They had started doing this a few months ago, when Jaime had a Geometry problem that he didn’t understand, and in late-night desperation he’d asked for help. She didn’t know the answer, but her father did, and the two of them had spent most of an hour on video chat while Selwyn worked through Jaime’s homework questions. 

 

Since then, Jaime insisted on doing homework together. He said she focused him, that watching her work kept his mind from flitting all over the place. Mostly she thought he was lonely.

 

“Can you see?” She angled the camera so that it focused on her sketchbook.

 

“What, no ‘Hello, how are you Jaime?’ Have you given up all pretense of civility, Brienne?” He was teasing, he was always teasing.

 

“Helllloooo.” Brienne leaned down so that half of her face appeared on the screen sideways, hair flopping over one eye. She played at indifference, but the grin peeked out. Jaime was always making her grin.

 

“There’s those eyes, one of them at least.” He winked, and it sent something swirling in her head. “Is that me?”

 

Her brain was frazzled, she missed a beat. “Oh um yeah, it is.”  A hot tide rose from chest to hairline, and she was glad he couldn’t see her. “It’s a-a school project, I’m supposed to draw a friend.”

 

“Your best friend, right?” Teasing again. 

 

She didn’t understand this game, this back and forth that he spoke like a second language. Brienne wanted to do the teasing for once, to not be the baby.

 

“Well they didn’t specify, so I picked you instead.” She heard his flustered inhale, his small, hurt huff. 

 

Brienne waited for the laughter, but he didn’t, and she worried. 

 

Waiting and worrying, his silence stretched out uncomfortably. With a grunt, she smacked the screen back enough to see him. 

 

Jaime was staring at his hands, a look on his face that she couldn’t pin down: not hurt and not mad, but not amused either. 

 

Sad, maybe, a little nervous?

 

Brienne knew this look. She’d worn it like a too-tight shirt, at birthday parties and middle school dances, sitting in a corner not knowing what to do or say, feeling silly and vulnerable.

 

Rejected. He looked rejected.

 

Hey, Jaime… Brienne made her voice soft, tried to stretch it across the distance until it brushed his cheek. “I was full of shit.” 

 

His lips twitched at the corners, a start.

 

Brienne took a deep breath, let her guard fall. “You’re absolutely, one-hundred percent my best friend, my forever friend. Never doubt that.” 

 

Jaime closed his eyes, her words seeping in.

 

“Sometimes what I’m feeling doesn’t make sense.” Running his fingers through his hair, he vibrated with frustrated energy. “I knew you were joking, but I couldn’t laugh. Why couldn’t I laugh, Brienne?” 

 

“Feelings don’t have to make sense, do they?” She shrugged, and he relaxed, a weight lifted.

 

“I suppose not.”

 

“I think sometimes we feel things now that we don’t understand for years. I did that with my mom, covered my anger by acting like it was no big deal. It was better than screaming, or crying. Someday you’ll understand why I upset you.”

 

Baby Brienne, how come you’re fourteen and you know more than I do at seventeen?” He still looked sad, and Jaime should never look sad.

 

“Because I’m the brains of this duo.” She raised her brows and waited, counted to five as his expression blossomed from astonishment to glee. 

 

He narrowed his eyes, and God that wasn’t fair in any fight. “So what, exactly, am I?” He growled it, purred it actually, and if this was a tiny taste of Jaime being flirty, Brienne didn’t understand why there weren’t a dozen people lined up at his door every morning.

 

She met his stare, swallowed nervously before answering. “You’re the beauty.” 

 

As if she needed proof, his face split wide in a grin that was blindingly pretty, her screen filled with round, pink lips and sparkling teeth.  “You think I’m beautiful, Brienne?”

 

“Shut up.” She pushed the screen down so that the camera was pointed at her hands again.

 

“Do you? Am I the loveliest thing you’ve ever seen?” He was laughing now, so furiously that he made a little sucking noise as he lost his breath.

 

“Shut up.”

 

“Briennnnnne.” Still laughing.

 

“Shut up.”

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

The holidays got easier. She and her father settled into their own rhythm, and sometimes they did things exactly the same as they would have with her mother and brother there, and sometimes they took out on a whim. It felt good to shake off the routine. What did it matter if there were only two?

 

Except there were three. 

 

Jaime was a part of their celebrations, as solid as if he were there. Her father sent gifts, and they hovered around her laptop watching him open them in his dark, little dorm room. Selwyn offered more than once to " spring him from the joint”, but Jaime declined. He and Tywin were friends, and Brienne thought that Jaime feared his father’s reaction, what it might do to Selwyn. 

 

Her father would leave them alone, mumble about straightening the kitchen or checking the laundry, any feeble excuse. Brienne would crawl under the tree if there was one, or sprawl on her belly in front of the fire, and they would trade years.  

 

It didn’t feel strange, not anymore, how personal this was, how much of herself she poured into the box and how much of Jaime she received in return. Their friendship was no longer a once a year affair. He gave a little of himself every day, in texts and calls, in the near steady stream of pictures. 

 

It didn’t terrify her anymore, how much she loved him.

 

This was what love felt like, she was certain. Sometimes she couldn’t breathe when she thought of him, sometimes her stomach clenched at his smile. Jaime was her person, even if she wasn’t his.

 

He loved her, but not the same. Jaime would find someone, and she would stay his friend in as many ways as their separate lives would allow. It was the knowing that was awful. She was determined to feel everything with Jaime, even heartache.

 

There wasn’t time to take him for granted. Every box in the mail, each silly mistletoe kiss, those were gifts that might never repeat. The stupid texts, the self-absorbed grumbling, the joking that cut close to the quick--Brienne welcomed it all. There was an endpoint to this madness, she just didn’t know when.



🎄🎄🎄

 

“How’s Winterfell?” 

 

“Cold. White.” She and her father were spending the holiday in a mountainside cabin this year. “I have discovered that tall people are bad on skis.”

 

“Maybe you’re just bad on skis?” 

 

“Maybe.” She huffed, heard his answering chuckle. “This cute boy felt sorry for me, I almost pulled him down when he tried to help me stand.”

 

“Did you get his name?” 

 

“He asked me to a bonfire tonight.” 

 

Jaime was quiet on the other end. Jaime who was never quiet. It scared her, this sudden silence, like a knot undone, something broken.

 

“Why aren’t you there instead?” He was serious. She didn’t know what to do with his sincerity. “You’re fifteen Brienne, the perfect age for boys and bonfires and flirting in the snow.”

 

“No one flirts with me.” 

 

“That boy would be lucky to have your attention, even a minute of it.” There was a snap to the words, an undercurrent of annoyance.

 

 “Would you rather I had gone?” She snapped back, not understanding why. 

 

His breath was loud in her ear, weighted down with some feeling she didn’t know. She almost gave up on him answering at all, almost decided to hang up and go to the bonfire out of spite.

 

Spiteful, again.

 

“No.” His reply hovered there, alone in the silence.

 

“Fine.” 

 

Brienne’s face was hot, and her words lay bitter on her tongue. The cabin felt too small, tight with things she couldn’t say. She wandered out the door and breathed deeply, the heat in her chest exiting in long white puffs. 

 

“It’s beautiful here.” She whispered it to Jaime, who had been silent so long she thought he was gone. “I can hear the snow.” The soft crackle of flakes against leaves. 

 

“Will you show it to me?” 

 

Brienne switched to FaceTime, did a slow sweep of the cabin and the forest beyond. Evergreen branches touched the ground, heavy with ice and bright in the moonlight. Fat snowflakes landed on the camera, everything blurred. 

 

When she was done she looked at Jaime, he stared back with thoughtful eyes. “Thank you, Brienne.”

 

“My pleasure. It’s not like I had somewhere better to be.” 


Honest.  She could be honest too.

Chapter Text

Jaime had started university in the fall, and nothing had changed. King's Landing was closer than Lannisport, but she was busy with school and track, and he had classes and photography club. The distance was still too far. 

 

Brienne had waited for it to happen, for Jaime to wake up and realize that he was grown, beautiful and charming, the world in his palm. She’d waited for him to see her, really see her, a gangly teenage girl in her bedroom on Tarth. 

 

Nothing had changed. 

 

The texts and photos never stopped. He left rambling messages on her phone while walking to class, he’d remembered her birthday. There was homework and jokes, mistletoe in a box, winks and smiles and teasing beyond reason. 

 

Then he’d left for Dorne and Brienne had thought this is it. He’ll be in a breathtaking place with people his own age and forget me. She’d cried as he boarded his flight. 

 

He’d called her the minute he landed. 

 

“I can’t believe you get to spend the summer in Dorne.” Brienne was whining. She had started before he left, and was still whining two weeks after he arrived.

 

“Believe it Sweet Sixteen .” He’d called her that since her birthday, almost a year. “The drinking age here is eighteen. I’m legal, with a year to spare.”

 

“Shut up.”

 

“Yep, think I’ll go wild and crazy, whoop it up.” She snorted. “Don’t wound me, Brienne. It could happen.”

 

“Me too, wild nights on Tarth.” 

 

Jaime cackled and her own laughter bubbled over, caught up in his swell. He would be in bed by eleven, would text her goodnight, they both knew it.  

 

“Walk on the beach with me, Brienne.” 

 

She snapped to attention at the silly request. “Do you have heat stroke? Should I call someone?”

 

“No, just…it’s really pretty right now. The sun is setting, the sky is this brilliant coral, and the waves are flat and dark. I just thought we could…” He sighed, shook his head until the phone rattled against his ear.

 

“Tell me.” 

 

“I thought if you walked on your beach and I walked on mine, if we talked and video chatted, I could imagine you here.” The line went quiet.

 

“I can do that.” 

 

She couldn’t control it, the whirlwind thumping of her heart as she grabbed her flip flops and headed out the door, her short, ragged breaths as she climbed the path over the dunes. What he was offering was too good, and she would snatch every memory she could get her hands on.

 

Greedy.

 

Brienne had called Cersei that, a long time ago. Greedy for Jaime’s time, and greedy for his attention and she wondered what made people crave him like this. Like she did. 

 

The beach was beautiful: long, low waves foaming to shore, the sun’s parting flare spread over the flat surface. Brienne turned in a silent circle, letting him see. Water sloshed up her legs to the knee, and she filmed that too. Waves in, waves out, her freckled feet appearing and disappearing.

 

“Brienne.” He was calling her name.

 

She looked at the screen and Jaime smiled back, framed in pink, soft in the fading light. “You have long legs, baby.” 

 

“I’m long everywhere.” Brienne laughed awkwardly and Jaime smiled, his eyes more dark than before.

 

The view tilted toward his feet, traveling down long, tan legs. Sand stuck in the hairs like glitter. “Mine are just as long, I think. We match.

 

Something in his voice made her toes curl in the sand. This game was different, this game was out of her league. Jaime made her stupid, and he made her rash; ready to charge the waves and twirl in a circle and laugh, ready to sprint. 

 

“I’m no match for you.” It was self-defense, admitting what she knew.

 

Jaime dropped his gaze. Didn’t he understand that she couldn’t breathe? Not with him looking at her with half-closed eyes, not with him saying she was his match when she wasn’t. 

 

When he lifted his face, it was gone. “How was your day, Brienne?” 

 

They walked the beach together and talked until it was dark. When a star rose she wished on it; such a stupid thing to do, a babyish thing. 

 

She wished for more time, just a little more of this. 

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

Her phone rang at midnight. 

 

Jaime was in Dorne, Jaime never called at midnight.

 

“Hello?” No answer.

 

“Jaime, what is it?” She sounded frantic.

 

“I messed up.” His voice was sticky. “I messed up and kissed someone.”

 

There it was, finally, a relief almost, lancing a boil. The disappointment poured out, hot on her cheeks.

 

“How is that ‘messing up’?” Brienne was proud of her voice, how it didn’t shake; proud that she could make words around the screaming in her head.

 

“She’s a friend, Brienne.” A wet inhale, a pause. “Really pretty too, s-smart and funny, a great girl.”

 

“That’s good, right?” 

 

She should hang up, turn off her phone and cry into her pillow. Life had never been fair, and this wasn’t fair, but there had to be a limit, didn’t there?

 

“No, it was awful. ” The last word broke, almost a wail. “It should have been great, she’s great.”

 

“Jaime…”

 

A better friend would feel something other than relief, a better friend could comfort him.

 

“It felt wrong, Brienne, like I was doing something wrong.”

 

“You weren’t.”

 

“I know, but why?

 

“I don’t know.” I can’t help you. 

 

She should say it, confess that her heart was too tangled up with his to set him free, even if she knew how.

 

“I’m so lonely, Brienne. I was just lonely.” 

 

How would it feel, a life without touching? Her father hugged her every day, told her that he loved her. Jaime went without.  

 

“I love you.” It left her lips before she had time to reconsider. 

 

He was quiet, so quiet, and she considered taking it back somehow, putting a qualifier on the end, or laughing it off.

 

There was a tremor on the line, the shake of silent sobs. “I love you too.”

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

“I’m coming home for the holiday this year.” He skipped the greeting, no time wasted.

 

“You are?” Her voice rose with excitement.

 

“Cersei is dating Robert, so we’re meeting at the Baratheon’s again.” There was that lilting quality to his voice, he was smirking.

 

“Robert, oh God, really? He’s such a-a…”

 

“Horrible drunk? Raging asshole?” Jaime laughed then, almost guiltily. “I know.”

 

“He’s much older.”

 

“Cersei is a precocious twenty, she’ll manage.”

 

Brienne giggled. “Poor Robert.”

 

“You’re coming, right?” 

 

“Jaime, we weren’t invited…”

 

“You are now.” There were times she remembered that he was a Lannister, that he usually got his way. “You’re coming, right?” 

 

“I’m coming.”


🎄🎄🎄

Chapter Text

 

There were no rules, not for this.

 

Six years had passed since she and Jaime breathed the same air, since the same sunlight warmed their cheeks. Six years of her memories were stored in his head, six years of his life in her bottom desk drawer.

 

The line of his lips was a code she knew by rote. He could read each fold of her brow. There was no logical reason to be nervous, not with Jaime. 

 

Jaime who had seen her mussed and sleepy-eyed, who she FaceTimed after every meet dripping with sweat. Jaime who had once counted freckles for an entire hour as she studied. 

 

“Bring warm clothes.”  

 

He’d texted one line, and she packed and re-packed her bag imagining why. 

 

There was a tiny corner of her heart...the part that still missed her mother, that hated her mirror... that part didn’t trust any of this. It came up with elaborate schemes, horrible schemes: Jaime in a closet that he called a dorm room, Jaime in Lannisport pretending it was Dorne; all the while Cersei listening, biting her knuckle with vicious laughter. That corner cringed, protesting their reunion louder with each passing day. 

 

She’d confessed her fears one night over dinner, and her father had propped his fork on a plate, sat blinking across the table. “Brienne, do you really think so little of him?”

 

I think so little of me. 

 

She couldn’t say that, not to her father, not to Jaime.

 

So she filled the pink overnight bag with bulky sweaters and warm socks, and she folded her favorite outfit. She twisted her fingers and picked at her nails and hoped.


🎄🎄🎄

 

He was standing behind Mr. Baratheon, just out of the way as she extended her hand in greeting, as her father and his friend spoke of how big she’d gotten, how grown she was.

 

Jaime shifted foot to foot, taking her in. That wanted feeling, that waited for feeling so thick around him, Brienne was woozy with it.

 

Then they were alone.

 

“Look at you, baby. Taller than me.” His voice more deep than she remembered, with no mischief to muddy the fondness.

 

“A little.” She shrugged, embarrassed.

 

“Statuesque. I like it.” 

 

Before the compliment had a chance to settle, Jaime closed the distance. Linked his hands low on her hips and lifted her in the air, bouncing again and again until she barked with fractured laughter. 

 

“Jai-me…Jai-me…Jai-me.”   It leaked out between jostles.

 

“Good lord woman, you’re solid. ” 

 

Solid. Her first instinct was to bristle, but the grit in his voice, the growl , it convinced her otherwise.

 

He’d called her woman, and he’d called her solid, and there was an implication tucked in the middle that made her shiver.

 

Jaime released her slowly, let her slide to her feet until they rested toe to toe, foreheads touching. His eyes were wide—green as grass, wondering , gentle—as he brushed his nose to hers, as he nuzzled and whispered: “I missed you, Brienne. I missed you.”

 

Fragile. I’m so fragile.

 

Not solid, not solid at all. Brienne felt stretched, pulled open, her pulpy, sweet emotions exposed to air, spilling into view. 

 

“I missed you too.”  There was no denying, not with her hands on his shoulders and his breath on her cheek.

 

They stood that way too long, and Brienne was sure at any moment someone would round the corner and find them like this, would see how she stared, how she softened in his hands. Jaime must have realized it too, a shy look crossing his face as he hummed and eased away.

 

It was okay for him to pull away. He was Jaime and she was Brienne, and he loved her, but not like that; not love that left you clinging to each other in doorways. 

 

Brienne missed his touch for a moment, then he was gripping two fingers in his palm and dragging her to the table.  It was confusing, this forward and back, this close then far. 

 

They sat together at the end of the table, laughing and teasing and ignoring everyone around them. Brienne forgot all about his arms around her waist and his sigh on her skin.


🎄🎄🎄

 

“Wake up.” He was banging on the door to her room, their room.

 

Coming, coming…” She finished pulling a sweater over her head, smoothed her hair. Jaime was in the hallway grinning, she was obligated to grin in reply.

 

“We’ve got a lot to do, let’s get shaking.” He nodded at her pink duffle, open on the bed. “Bring your bag.”

 

Brienne lifted it with a frown, and he automatically took it from her and threw it over his shoulder, automatically threaded the fingers of his hand through hers. 

 

Fragile, still fragile. 

 

A different fragility, a welcome fragility, the sensation of being looked after, of being cared for. It was disorienting.

 

They hiked to their lake, surrounded by trees that reached tall and stark into the mid-morning sky, their breath collecting in crisp, white halos. When they were almost there he slipped behind her, covered her eyes.

 

“Jaime, what …what? ” She stumbled forward, pulling him with her for a step.

 

“Patience.” 

 

Brienne was distracted by warm fingers on cool skin, by the bump of his hips as they shuffled together. He removed his hands, she blinked in a bright clearing.

 

“A tent?” He was biting his lip when she turned to look. “We’re camping?” 

 

“I thought, maybe…” There was uncertainty in his eyes. Jaime who should never feel uncertain, not with her. Brienne took his hand, ran her thumb over the knuckles. “I thought it would give us time together, away from the others. Time to catch up.” Simple.  

 

His wants were simple, and her expectations shifted to meet them. Jaime had done all of this for her, set up the tent and carried supplies; all for a few extra moments of her time, a few unhurried words. 

 

What need was there for love that lingered in doorways, when they could sit beneath the stars?

 

She nodded, answering an unspoken question. “I’d like that, I’d like it a lot.”

 

They walked the lakeside path, hiked through the woods. She drew and he took photographs, and when it suited they stretched out on a blanket, stared at the same clouds. 

 

He pulled out his laptop, she opened her sketchbook, and in some ways it felt like no time had passed. Except now there were layers of memories to build upon, connections and experiences shared in spirit if not proximity.  

 

When it grew cold, they retreated to the tent. Jaime had piled the floor with blankets, and Brienne automatically took her side. 

 

“I almost forgot.” He reached in a backpack and retrieved the scrap of mistletoe, placed it in her palm.

 

“Poor thing, just look at it.” Brienne rolled the twig in her fingers, asked without thinking, “Which is it this year?”

 

“What?” 

 

“Too old or too young?” 

 

“Oh.” He sounded hurt, she regretted the question.“If Selwyn thought I’d lured his teenage daughter into the woods to make-out…how would that look, Brienne?” The words were light, but the sentiment wasn’t.

 

“Jaime, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean…”

 

“I just don’t think we should…” 

 

Kiss . I’m not meant for kissing.

 

Eight-year-old Brienne kneeling on the landing had known it, seventeen-year-old Brienne had just forgotten. Kissing was for beautiful, red-headed boys and pretty, friendly girls, not Brienne. 

 

Never Brienne.

 

“It’s no big deal.” She forced a laugh she didn’t mean, closed her fingers around the mistletoe. “It’s just a stick now, the magic’s gone.”

 

For one, wild second Brienne considered tossing it out the tent flap, adding it to the leaves and twigs on the forest floor. He would search and search and never find it.

 

Spiteful, still spiteful.

 

Her head no longer worked when she was with Jaime, or maybe it was her heart. One minute giddily happy, the next sulking. Lately she left their conversations feeling unfinished, starved for something. In person she was finding it much worse, more bereft with each squeeze of his fingers. It was selfish and thoughtless, and she was on the brink of ruining a truly wonderful day. 

 

Jaime stayed quiet, and Brienne kissed his cheek. Just a brush of lips, too short to notice how warm his skin was, how his whiskers pricked.

 

“Goodnight.” She faced her tent wall.

 

“Goodnight, Brienne.” 

 

🎄🎄🎄

Her shoulder ached and her nose was cold. It seemed only sensible to flip over, wrap her arms around the heated pile, bury her face in the mat of curls. She was drifting back to sleep, warm finally, the taste of campfire filling her mouth, the tang of leaves and sweat, and…

 

Oh no.

 

He was awake. Brienne could tell by the way he stiffened in her arms, how he scooted forward. 

 

“I-I’m sorry.” She mumbled into his hair and that made things worse, all the soft strands catching in her spit as Jaime made a low, frustrated sound. “I’ll just…”

 

“Don’t.” His fingers squeezed her wrist, pressed her palm to his chest. “Just…just…for God’s sake, Brienne. Please…

 

Please what? “This is stupid. I’m bothering you, I’ll roll over.” 

 

Jaime’s breathing thundered in the tiny tent, his heart a stampede beneath her fingers, and she couldn’t understand causing so much discomfort with one arm, one hand.

 

There was a long pause, filled with the sound of his breath, his thoughts. “I’m an idiot, all this time. Brienne, I’m such an idiot.” 

 

“You’re not. This was a great idea, but a very small tent.” She patted his chest encouragingly, and he tightened his hold on her wrist. “No harm, no foul.” Brienne tried to roll over, he stopped her. 

 

Please, Brienne.”

 

“What?”

 

“Stay.”

 

She was a baby, she was, because she didn’t know what was happening between them, why it seemed important, why it terrified her. 

 

“All right.” He was cold too, he must be. Brienne willed her body to relax, chest tilting forward until it rested against his back, legs forming the same angle as his.

 

“God Brienne…” Her name stretched from his lips, and he pressed into the circle of her arms, her thighs, burrowing in his need to be close.

 

It wasn’t her fault when he leaned back, brushing the soft skin of his neck against her open mouth. Not her fault when he sighed and did it again, the second brush more deliberate than the first. 

 

It was an accident, rubbing her fingertips up and down his sternum, and she only repeated the movement once, memorizing the twitch of muscle beneath his shirt. Brienne didn’t mean to wiggle her toes between his calves until he groaned.

 

“Still. Brienne, be still. ” He stroked her wrist and she hummed with happiness. He hummed too, she thought, longer and louder.

 

Drifting to sleep with her nose in his hair, she reminded herself that this was one night: one chance to comfort Jaime who was horribly lonely and had no one else to hold him, a few hours to enjoy him in her arms. 

 

In the morning nothing would change.


🎄🎄🎄

Brienne woke alone to the smell of coffee and bacon. She found Jaime squatted by the fire, flipping strips in a little iron skillet. He stood at the sight of her. 

 

Something in the gesture was so like her father, how he would rise when her mother entered a room. It was born of fondness, not obligation; always so delighted to see her again. 

 

The look on Jaime’s face was delighted too.

 

“It was meant to be a surprise.” He indicated the dishes spread across the ground. “Breakfast in bed …tent, actually.” 

 

Brienne was accustomed to feeling loved. Her father’s love lifted her up, held her firm. He had loved her that way when she still fit on his shoulders, he loved her that way now.

 

His was steady love, unquestioning love. Love that existed before she drew her first breath.

 

This was love by choice, love that changed. 

 

Brienne didn’t know what to do with Jaime’s love, a love that felt different today than it had yesterday. 

 

“Thank you.” There was a trace of awe in her voice, a trace of fear. “…for all this, for everything.”

 

He came to her, of late he always seemed to be coming to her, folded her in his arms and squeezed. Jaime smelled of bacon and cinders, his shoulders were warm from the sun. Brienne balled her fingers in his sweatshirt, pressed her nose to his neck to take more of him in. 

 

“I don’t want you to leave.” He sounded small.

 

“I don’t want to go.”  

 

On the hike back he took photos of the lake, of her. Each time he paused, smiled at the view screen with enough warmth to melt her reluctance. She let him take picture after picture, as many as he wanted.

 

Jaime could get anything with that smile, those eyes. 

 

When they were ready to leave, he carried their bags to the car, hugged her again and shook her dad’s hand. 

 

“Call me when you get home?” He shut the door behind her, tapped the window as she nodded.

 

Brienne was quiet for the trip, and her father would stare when he thought she wasn’t looking, a question in his eyes.

 

“Good holiday?” He kept his voice flat, but there was worry underneath.

 

“Great holiday.”



Chapter Text

 

There was a shift in the air, in the currents between them. 

 

Brienne didn’t understand the change, not a bit, but she basked in it anyway, sopped it up like honey. It had started without warning and would end just the same, and in the middle she would enjoy every phone call, every text that felt almost …sweet?

 

Jaime knew her schedule better than she did, when she had a test or a meet. His end of the school-day phone calls were so regular, she was sure he had a reminder set.  They said goodnight each evening, by text or call. Brienne found herself looking forward to it, expecting it. 

 

That wanted feeling, the waited for feeling, stretched across the distance between them. 

 

Before it had been him, at the steps, at the tent flap. Brienne holding back, shielding her heart with weakening denial, with forced indifference. 

 

I love him.  

 

She’d admitted that long ago, embraced the strength that came from admitting it, from having that self-knowledge: I love him and he loves me, but not love love, and that’s okay. 

 

For so long it had been...okay. Just okay. 

 

Somewhere on the walk back, with a pack heavy on her shoulders and Jaime’s smile outshining the mid-morning sun, she’d lost it. Her reservation, her resolve to keep from falling, they’d crumbled like leaves beneath her boots. 

 

I’m in love with him.

 

That changed everything, that was a different hurt-in-waiting. Free in her consciousness, it grew unchecked. She made plans, she presumed.  

 

The claim she had avoided staking—that his sleepy smile was hers, that his chest beneath her fingers felt right—it solidified overnight. Now she was the one who lingered.

 

Jaime did nothing to help, nothing to make it go away. He sent her pictures and little packages. He still asked to do homework together, still liked looking at her drawings and hearing about her day. Jaime made her feel special, so horribly special. 

 

Brienne told herself over and over this isn’t, this isn’t, this isn’t… 

While the traitorous corner of her heart, the part that hoped, whispered back what if it is, and what if he does, and he could, and perhaps…

 

It was going to end, terribly, tragically. She knew and couldn’t stop it, couldn’t stop herself.

 

I’m in love with him. How sad.

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

Deep breath. 

 

“Happybirthdaytoyou,happybirthdaytoyou, happy-twenty-first-birthday-dear-Jai-meee, happybirthdaytoyou. And, umm, you know I can’t sing, and if you laugh I’ll kill you, ‘kay? Bye.”

 

One-twelve in the morning, her phone vibrated on the bedside stand.  “Heeey Brien, Brie-enn, Breyann…” A snort, a giggle.

 

“Jaime, are you drunk?”

 

“Maybe, just a smidge. It’s my birthday, remember? You sang and everything.” There was the thwump-thwump-thwump of electric bass, it rattled across the connection. “I can’t believe you sang, baby.”

 

“Is that her ? Gimme the phone.” A male voice in the background she didn’t know, then a scuffle, a bump. “C’mon Jaime, don’t be a wanker, I just wanted to say…” 

 

“Not a chance, Addam, you’re a mouthy idiot when you’re drinking.” Whack, thump. “Stop it, stop! Give me back the fucking phone.” 

 

“I won’t say anything stupid. God, you’re so dramatic.” Another few seconds of jostling, then the screen lit up with a FaceTime request. 

 

Jaime stood behind the shoulder of another man; the red-headed boy, all grown up. He was shorter than Jaime, a sturdy beauty in his broad face. Their smiles filled the screen, Jaime’s was lopsided beneath glassy eyes.  

 

There she is.” Addam’s voice was low and friendly, a voice made for laughter. He winked as she met his gaze. “Nice to finally meet you, baby Brienne.” 

 

“Don’t.” Jaime snarled, cut him an angry glance, and the laughter she’d expected rumbled from Addam’s wide chest. He nudged Jaime with his shoulder, and Brienne felt her joy fade.

 

“You must be Addam.” She firmed her smile, pushed a clump of hair from her eyes. “I thought you were attending Lannisport.”

 

“Addam decided that I needed the full twenty-first-birthday experience. His classes don’t start for a couple of weeks, so he drove over.” 

 

“That’s nice.” Awfully nice, exceedingly nice.

 

“I wish you were here, too.” Jaime spoke slowly, the haze clearing from his evergreen eyes.

 

“Brother.” Addam snorted, tugged at Jaime’s hair. “Too much man, too much.” He laughed again, and it wasn’t like Renly, not vapid or mean.

 

Jaime smiled at Addam, his expression lazy with alcohol and so very fond. Face to face, they were gorgeous and vibrant; both had sweaty curls plastered to their necks, both with high, pink cheeks.

 

She should love Jaime enough to let him go. Let him find someone his age, someone his match.

 

“I’m going back to bed.” Brienne noted Jaime's flinch, but couldn’t meet his eyes. “Have fun guys.”

 

“Brienne …Brienne… ” Ignoring him was impossible. 

 

“What?” 

 

“I’ll call you when I get home.”   

 

I choose you. It was there, in the silence.

 

“I’ll be waiting.”

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

“I’ve been accepted into KLU.” Brienne was breathless, staring at the email.

 

“What?”

 

“Jaime, I got in.” There was a pause on the other end, and she questioned her choice. He would be a senior, she a freshman. Maybe he wasn’t pleased, maybe she was smothering him. “I um, I also got into Stormlands, in case King’s Landing doesn’t uh…”

 

“Holy shit.” Jaime whispered, heavy with fierce happiness, gradually gaining volume. “Holy shit, holy fucking shit, we’re going to university together? Brienne…” Her name a sigh.

 

“Holy shit.”

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

“Are you coming to the Baratheon's this year?” 

 

What? No, we hadn’t planned on it. Dad rented a place in…”

 

“I need you to come.” Jaime sounded panicked. “Brienne, please. I need you there.”

 

“Jaime, you didn’t tell me, I didn’t know…”

 

“Brienne, just please...please come.” He was frantic.

 

“What happened? What’s wrong?” Her voice rose, feeding off his emotions.

 

“I don’t want to talk about this, not over the phone.” He swallowed loudly, sighed. “Please come.”

 

Three pleases, no...four? How could she refuse four pleases?

 

“I’ll ask Dad.”

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

Brienne drove herself, letting her father keep his plans. He had booked a fishing cabin this year and invited some friends; at least he’d have company.

 

Jaime was pacing when she pulled into the drive. Brienne didn’t remember parking the car, didn’t remember the walk to the house, the walk to him. It felt like waking, being in his arms, Jaime tangling his fingers in her hair, pressing his forehead to hers. 

 

“You came.”

 

“How could I not? You sounded a little…” 

 

“Unhinged?” He huffed desperately, twisted her hair. 

 

Brienne gripped his forearms, holding him still. “Jaime, tell me.

 

“Cersei’s announcing her engagement tonight.”

 

Cersei, who was vain and glorious, who, like Jaime, held the world in her delicate palm. Cersei, who shared her twin’s grace, if not his heart.

 

“Engaged…to Robert? Good lord, why?” Brienne loathed the woman with a decade’s worth of disdain, and even she found that future cruel. “Is she pregnant?”

 

“I wish. That would at least make sense. It would be a good reason for this tragedy, an honest reason. She’s so young, Brienne, and she’s selling herself like a whore, for this… ” He flung his arm in a circle. “Cersei Baratheon, Lannister-Baratheon I’d wager, queen as far as the eye can see.” 

 

“Jaime, stop.” His eyes were wild, she grabbed at his fingers. “It’s her mistake to make, you can’t protect her.”

 

“It’s not just…” He grimaced. “She’ll own our fucking lake, she’ll own our forest, Brienne. The clearing…” His voice broke, he swallowed a sob.

 

“We’ll find another lake, another forest.” Brienne tugged his thumbs until he sought her eyes. “We’ll make new memories.” 

 

Brienne drew him to her chest, stroked his shoulders and exhaled, patiently waiting until he relaxed in her arms. Jaime felt so good there, warm and firm beneath her palms. She’d guiltily steal these moments, as many as she could catch.  

 

Greedy. After all these years, still greedy for his affection. It was a hole she’d never fill, an endless want.

 

“It wasn’t the trees, Jaime. It was the company.” 

 

He hummed against her neck, and she bit her lip to keep from whimpering. “The company was pretty spectacular.”

 

“Ever humble.” Brienne whispered in his ear, and like that they were laughing, clinging together and shaking with mirth.

 

She wondered how they looked from the house, from the yard. If anyone else thought it looked like love.

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

It was a truly awful evening. 

 

Robert bellowed and toasted, while Cersei ambitiously drank herself into a stupor. Brienne had lost track of Jaime an hour ago, after Tywin took him by the elbow and insisted he congratulate his twin on the upcoming union. 

 

She was sipping the same cup of lukewarm tea and scanning the crowd, when Tyrion pointed to a set of glass doors. Brienne paused outside, letting her head and her heart appreciate the sight of him. Jaime leaned on a rail overlooking the garden, their forest a black mass at the edges. 

 

He’s beautiful. 

 

She couldn’t not stare, not with the glow from the house casting him in amber, with his legs crossed in ease and a sleepy tilt to his eyes. There was a bottle by his feet and a glass in his hand, and she’d seen that loose expression once before on her phone in the middle of the night.

 

“Hey there.” 

 

“Brienne.” It slurred off his tongue as he turned to her with dark eyes. Jaime was more drunk than she’d expected, unguarded and raw. 

 

“You okay?”

 

“My father and I…” He shook his head, gave a bark of humorless laughter. “That was an excellent talk, super informative. I’m to shut my damn mouth, show up for the ceremony sober and accompanied by a proper date, or he’ll find one for me.” He tilted his head for a lingering swallow, Brienne could see the muscles of his throat ripple.

 

“Was that a full bottle?”

 

“A gift…” He raised his glass. “…from Robert. The braggart bought a case. It’s good bourbon...I think. Want some?”

 

“Jaime, you know I’m only eighteen.” 

 

“Eighteen’s old enough.” His eyes drifted to her lips.

 

That tight feeling gathered in her gut. Brienne could name it now, knew what it meant and who it belonged to… always Jaime, only Jaime. 

 

“Give me that.” She walked toward him, hand open. “You’ve had enough.”

 

“Maybe I’m tired of doing what I’m supposed to.” He crowded her, clutching the glass. “Cersei did whatever she damn well pleased with anyone, with everyone , and as long as it was quiet, as long as she was discrete and didn’t embarrass the family, no one cared. I screw up once, and I’m tossed out like garbage.”

 

“Don’t say that.” His eyes were despairing, Jaime who should be laughing, who should be teasing. She stroked his cheek in consolation. 

 

“Cersei never obsessed over her feelings, if they were too much or too little. Emotions a-and desire …sex. It didn’t matter if it was right, if it resonated deep down, in her soul.” He put a hand to his chest and Brienne covered it with her own. “It came so easy for her, it was a gift, and I couldn’t. Brienne, I couldn’t…

 

“You’re not like her.” 

 

“You thought I was, once.” 

 

“I lied.” 

 

I wanted to hurt you. She couldn’t say that, not now, not with him unfolding in front of her, fragile as wet paper.

 

“Maybe I should be...like her. Take what I want and damn the consequences. What if my person was right in front of me, and I was too big of a coward to act?” His hand dropped to her waist, bunched in the fabric of her slacks. 

 

“You’re not a coward.”  

 

“I’m not?” His nostrils flared, face flushed with sudden irritation. “What am I then, Brienne? A liar?”

 

“This is honest.” Her fingers tangled with his, curled over her waistband.

 

“God, you’re such a baby.” Jaime growled at her. He was in pain, licking his wounds with a bourbon-soaked tongue, and she couldn’t watch it. 

 

“Shut up and come here.” Brienne wrapped her free arm around his shoulders, dragging him close. Jaime went easily, pressed his nose to her neck and groaned. “Enough self-loathing and drunken introspection for one night.” 

 

He smelled so good; the sweet ferment on his breath mixing with the dark, sharp scent of him. Brienne leaned in, let his lips slide along her neck, let her chest rest against his. Jaime’s fingers on her hip tightened, he tipped forward until their thighs touched.

 

It was a kiss.  

 

Her brain didn’t recognize it at first, so caught up in the heat and breath of him that she missed the change. How his lips went from brushing her skin to mouthing at it, sucking gently, pinching the soft flesh between his teeth.

 

Oh God, it was a kiss.

 

He was moving up her neck, so quiet, so fearful. Like it would fly apart, shatter with the smallest sigh, the tiniest gasp. 

 

She wanted this, good lord did she want this. From her hair to her toenails she wanted Jaime Lannister; in any way that she could have him, in every way that he offered. Except...

 

Not like this.

 

Not drunk and disheartened, pushed by the fear of being odd and alone. Not with the poison of his family flowing alongside the liquor in his veins. Jaime should be in the sunlight, unafraid and unhesitant. He should be laughing, she wanted him laughing.

 

“Don’t...” Brienne dropped her arms, stepped away.

 

“I thought that you, that we...” Jaime stared at her neck, sounding dazed. 

 

Brienne cradled his face, stroked his bourbon-flushed cheeks. “I won’t be a tipsy mistake.” 

 

A mistake like Addam, like the pretty, funny girl; if he felt nothing and she felt everything, what would they do then? Jaime could kiss her, really kiss her, and it could still be a mistake.

 

“I don’t want to be a coward anymore.” His words were pleading; this once she held her ground. 

 

“Not tonight, not like this.” 

 

“Was I wrong?” Light from the windows caught in his wide, questioning eyes, like sunset through branches.

 

“How could any kiss from you be wrong?” She wrapped his hand in hers, squeezed. 

 

Jaime’s eyes trailed to her mouth. “We need to talk about this, it’s important.”

 

“I know. Sleep on it first.” She’d buy one more night, a few more hours of ambiguity. 

 

“Soon?”

 

“Soon.”

 

🎄🎄🎄

 

Jaime overslept breakfast, and Brienne didn’t wake him. Instead, she hiked to their lake, stood alone on the frosted shoreline, its glassy surface draped in fog.

 

The air was crisp and she missed him; missed his hand at her waist, his humid breath. She shivered, a memory of the night before, different shivers. 

 

I’m afraid. 

 

She’d been halfway there before realizing it, stomping her way to their spot, happy for the half-frozen earth beneath her heavy feet. Happy for how solid it made her feel. 

 

Her heart had been flopping around in her chest since his frantic call, since she turned into the drive and dropped into his arms. The beating of it so loud, so urgent, she didn’t notice the change in tempo. It had been worry, and now it was fear. 

 

Do you think so little of him? 

 

She didn’t, she didn’t. Jaime was her everything. It felt like small treason, the way her mind slipped back into mistrust, but not of him.

 

People go away, people disappoint you. People die and leave you broken. Brienne had prepared for the leaving, for the loss, but she hadn’t prepared for him to stay. 

 

She wasn’t prepared for him to want her. 

 

Jaime made her ache, and he made her uncertain. He smiled and the whole world spun.

 

Nothing was solid, nothing sure. Not her big feet on the hard ground, not her sheltered life, not her heart.

 

Brienne breathed in the cold air, held it until it burned, until she felt real. His kisses had been real too, even if she didn’t trust them.

 

He loved her, she trusted that. He’d felt something more, a spark. Jaime who was brave. Jaime who sometimes was too loyal, bound by promises he’d made in his head.

 

Jaime who had confused loyalty and loneliness with being in love.

 

She could leave. Avoid having this conversation and hearing him say what he couldn’t possibly mean.

 

What if, what if, what if…?

 

That treacherous corner of her heart wailed. It believed she was enough, that she could be enough for him. Stupid girl, silly girl…brave girl.

 

I can be brave.

 

Brienne had been brave before. Relentless in shedding her misery, in finding happiness with only her father. Stubbornly brave with Jaime, her friend. Maybe she could love him just as bravely.

 

She breathed that idea in. Let it settle like cool, still water around her pounding heart. 

 

Her love for Jaime was desperate, how much further could she truly fall? She would land in a pile, and it would damn near kill her, but for a while he would be hers.

 

Wasn’t that what she had always wanted, to know how it felt?

 

The walk back was easier, she was lighter.


🎄🎄🎄

Chapter Text

 

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. 

 

“Hey there.” 

 

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.” 

 

“Me too.” 

 

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?”

 

“Never.”

 

“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.

 

“Is this…”

 

“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.

 

“How long?” 

 

“A year.”

 

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.

 

Mistletoe. 

 

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.

 

“Wait.”

 

“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.